Checking in with 2018 Attorney General candidates: Dana Nessel
With the August primaries just three weeks away, we continue to make the rounds of candidates running for statewide offices.
We’ve spoken with Republican Tonya Schuitmaker who is running against Tom Leonard for their party’s nomination for attorney general.
Now we turn to the Democratic party’s endorsed candidate Dana Nessel.
Nessel is a former assistant prosecutor in Wayne County and the founder of the Fair Michigan Foundation and the Fair Michigan Justice Project, dedicated to investigating hate crimes against the LGBTQ community.
She joined Stateside’s Lester Graham to discuss environmental concerns, criminal justice, and gerrymandering.
In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled mandatory sentences of life without the possibility of parole are unconstitutional for juvenile offenders. Those who are serving time should get a review of their sentence. Attorney General Bill Schuette has pushed back on that, and hundreds of juvenile lifers still have not had their sentences reexamined. What would you do as Attorney General?
“There's an understanding, obviously, that when juveniles commit crimes, it does not mean that they are someone who forever cannot be rehabilitated. Their brains are not fully formed. There's a lot of scientific evidence and scientific data that bears that out. So I do think that in all but the most extreme cases, you should be giving that person the opportunity to be paroled at some point in life.”
Tonya Schuitmaker has posted on Facebook and her campaign has produced videos condemning local jurisdictions and liberals who want to provide sanctuary to “criminal illegal aliens.” She says she wants to keep the people of Michigan safe. What’s your position on sanctuary cities and undocumented immigrants?
“You know I think its just another effort by Republicans to scapegoat people who are not a threat to our communities and to our society. And I see people all the time who have not violated state law, they have not violated local ordinances or municipal law. And I think that is best for immigration courts to deal with. I don’t know why it is the obligation of county sheriffs or local municipal police departments to become active in having to enforce immigration law.”
But these candidates say these people are dangerous, it's for our own safety.
“Yeah, I disagree with that. I have worked in the criminal justice system for 25 years now, and I see so many threats to people in communities all over our state, and much of that comes from, for instance, issues that we have right now with the opioid epidemic or comes from our total complete lack of reasonable restrictions as it pertains to gun laws. I see so many things that are actually inflicting suffering and pain on communities around the state. I have not seen that when it comes to undocumented workers. For the most part you know these are folks who actually pay taxes, that work in environments and industries where you know they don’t have enough employees. I talked to people who operate farms all over the state — they just simply have fruit that’s rotting on the vine because they don’t have enough workers.”
Michigan has seen an increase in hate crimes since the election of Donald Trump. There was a spike last year. What should or could the attorney general’s office do about that?
"What I would like to do is this: I would like to have a hate crimes division in the office of attorney general that specifically investigates and prosecutes hate crimes. I think we can really use the anti-racketeering statutes in order to break up some of these criminal hate crime organizations, just like they did in the South with the Ku Klux Klan, and I think it's incredibly important. I see communities all over the state, minority communities, marginalized communities, that are terrified. And they are very frightened given this climate of hate that has been created in the last couple years, and I want to do everything I can in my capacity as Michigan attorney general to combat that as tenaciously as possible.”
If you are elected Michigan’s Attorney General, what, if anything, would you do about the 65-year-old Line 5, the Enbridge gas and oil pipelines running along the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron?
“I will shut it down. I will file a lawsuit in the court of claims literally on the first day that I take office, and I will seek an immediate injunction. Every day that this pipeline continues to operate is a day that we are facing the biggest economic and ecological catastrophe that our state has ever or will ever seen [sic]. And I've seen estimates that put the economic losses in the neighborhood of $6.3 billion. That's billion with a ‘b.’
“I can't understand why we would subject ourselves to the possibility of that kind of havoc being wrecked upon our state just so that its easier for a Canadian oil company to provide gas and oil that, you know, 95 percent of which goes to Canadians and doesn’t serve Michigan residents nearly at all. It's atrocious to me, and its something that's incredibly important to my campaign. It is a campaign promise that I intend to keep.”
The Voters Not Politicians ballot initiative to end gerrymandering of political districts by appointing an independent commission went before the Supreme Court after a challenge. Bill Schuette’s attorney general’s office argued against allowing the proposal on the ballot in November. What did you think of that?
“I thought it was shameful. I thought it was embarrassing for our state. To see our state's solicitor general standing there on behalf of the people of the state of Michigan, arguing that they, some what was it? 425,000 people, 450,000 people that signed that petition so that voters would have the opportunity to vote on a proposal that at long last would eliminate gerrymandering, which is a completely abhorrent practice, and it denies people fair representation, to have our solicitor general up there arguing that this was not in the best interest of the people when it is for the people and is put on the ballot by the people. This is the only time we’ve seen this type of ballot proposal actually make the ballot with an all-volunteer crew of signature gatherers. That's never happened before in Michigan history, but people wanted it so bad. People are so tired of the gerrymandering, extreme gerrymandering that we have in this state.”
This post was written by Stateside production assistant Sophie Sherry.