HOUGHTON — One of the Republican candidates looking to become Michigan’s next attorney general visited the Copper Country Saturday.
Tom Leonard spoke to crowds at the Nite Owl Cafe in L’Anse and the Rock House in Houghton Saturday, part of a three-day tour of the Upper Peninsula.
Leonard was an assistant prosecutor in Genesee County before becoming elected to the state House of Representatives, where he served as speaker in his last of three terms. He previously ran against Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel in 2018. Her performance in office motivated him to run again, he said.
“This attorney general has completely weaponized her office, and we need to make certain that she is removed in the next election,” he said.
He said he would reprioritize the office to fight violent crime in the state. The number of reports of violent crimes rose 12% in 2020, according to FBI statistics. He criticized some prosecutors for not bringing charges. One he singled out was Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon, who announced in July she would stop charging crimes resulting from traffic stops stemming from minor infractions, such as broken tail lights. Siemon said the move was made to address racial disparities in traffic stops and subsequent charges. The decision met with criticism from law enforcement officials in the county.
“It was so bad that the democratically elected sheriff in Ingham County held a press conference with law enforcement around the county saying enough is enough …if I had been the attorney general, I would have been standing next to law enforcement that day telling that prosecutor if she will not do her job, bring me those warrants, I will protect crime victims and I will do her job for her,” he said.
He also differed with Nessel on Line 5, where the state is suing to shut down the Enbridge pipeline over safety concerns. Instead, Leonard said he would uphold a law passed during his House tenure that would allow for the construction of a safe tunnel.
“She wants to leave 1000s of citizens here in the Upper Peninsula without the ability to heat their homes,” he said. “She wants to drive up fuel costs for everybody, when fuel right now at the pump is $1 higher than it was a year ago. We cannot allow that to happen.”
Leonard also criticized Nessel’s defense of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s COVID-19 orders, which had included mask mandates and temporary bans on indoor dining. After the first month, Whitmer had cited a 1945 law as the authority for the rulings. The state Supreme Court ruled the 1945 law was unconstitutional in a 4-3 decision in October 2020.
Another priority for Leonard is combating mental health problems in the state. Mental health courts and treatment courts have been beneficial throughout the state, he said.
“I’ve met two prosecutors just during my time here in the Upper Peninsula that have no prosecutors under them,” he said. “They are the lone attorney in the entire office. It’s very difficult for prosecutors like that to be able to implement a mental health court in their county to help those that really need assistance.”
Leonard said he would not consider prosecuting people for potentially lying about election fraud for personal gain.
“Going that far would have serious First Amendment implications, and I’m a big proponent of the First Amendment,” he said.
A Senate oversight report that found no evidence of widespread election fraud had recommended charges against those “utilizing misleading and false information about Antrim County to raise money or publicity for their own ends.” Nessel has said she would recuse herself from any investigation, which might include as a target Republican attorney general rival Matthew DePerno, who had spread debunked information regarding vote discrepancies in the county.
Leonard said his bigger concern is that Nessel had improperly “put her finger on the scale” in favor of Biden when it came to signature verification of absentee ballots. He referenced a state Court of Claims ruling that invalidated Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s guidance to clerks before the election to assume the signatures were legitimate. Nessel’s office had defended Benson’s memo. The Senate oversight report also included a recommendation for stronger verification requirements, bans on unsolicited mass mailing of ballot applications and other measures.
“Polling has shown for months that nearly 50% of our electorate no longer trust the integrity of the election process,” Leonard said. “Dana Nessel played a hand in that when she refused to enforce our laws. That is wrong.”
Leonard also backed an election initiative for which petitions are being circulated. It would include a voter ID requirement and bans on ballot harvesting and outside assistance such as that provided by Mark Zuckerberg during the 2020 election. Zuckerberg donated $400 million to nonprofits for assistance to fund election equipment, voting sites and other measures in more than 2,500 municipalities around the country, including several in the Copper Country.
Unlike Nessel, who has said she would not prosecute Michigan’s existing law banning abortion if Roe v. Wade is struck down, Leonard said he would act in accordance with state law.
“I’m not going to be the attorney general like Dana Nessel that weaponizes this office and goes in and says, I’m going to pick and choose which laws will and will not be enforced,” he said. “My job will be to enforce the law and that’s what I intend to do.”
The Michigan GOP will nominate candidates for attorney general, secretary of state and the Supreme Court in April. Other candidates for attorney general include Matthew DePerno and state Rep. Ryan Berman.