ANN ARBOR – When civil rights and criminal attorney Dana Nessel officially announced her campaign for state attorney general on Aug. 15 she said she will work to protect all the people, including members of the LGBTQ community.
“Instead of harassing them, persecuting them and making them feel like they don’t belong in our state,” said Nessel last week in Braun Court. That’s where she and other attorneys, Kenneth Mogill and Carole Stanyar, celebrated the legalization of same-sex marriage nationwide with clients April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on Obergefell v. Hodges on June 26, 2015.
During that four-year battle, Nessel said she “grew to loathe the office of the Michigan attorney general and all that it stood for” after she said Bill Schuette’s office spent millions of dollars fighting against marriage equality.
Nessel said she is seeking to fill the office of the attorney general with the values that she believes a majority of the residents in Michigan care about. Her first priority will be to shut down Enbridge’s oil line 5. She will go after corporations that create environmental hazards, protect consumers subjected to financial deception and fraud by “unscrupulous” debt collectors, and protect minority populations against hate crimes – something she is familiar with doing as the president of Fair Michigan. The non-profit organization created the Justice Project in July 2016 to prosecute hate crimes against the LGBTQ community in partnership with Wayne County Prosecutor Kym L. Worthy, who is one of the first public officials to endorse Nessel’s attorney general bid.
“I wholeheartedly support Dana Nessel’s candidacy. She has the breadth of experience, knowledge, and commitment to public service, to be an excellent Attorney General,” said Worthy. “As the Wayne County Prosecutor, and as a trial judge before that, I know Dana to be a tenacious but fair prosecutor, a committed advocate for victims of crime, and a tireless champion for civil rights for all the people.”
Nessel said she will create a civil rights division to prosecute housing and voting rights discrimination. She will focus on access to fair housing and lending opportunities, equal access to employment and educational opportunities, and equal access for individuals with disabilities.
She will create an auto insurance fraud division, increase resources to combat elder abuse and neglect, and support and protect the rights of women including their right to choose, safe access to medical treatment and birth control.
As a former Wayne County assistant prosecutor, Nessel will create a conviction integrity unit to investigate and prosecute acts of police misconduct and a licensing division so “bad cops” don’t move from department to department when they’ve committed acts of excessive force or violations of the public trust.
She will provide police officers with the resources and support they require to do their jobs properly and they will be compensated with decent pay and benefits.
“Dana’s the real deal.” said Ellis Stafford, retired Deputy Chief of the Michigan State Police and president of the Metro Detroit Chapter of the National Organization of Black Law Executives. “She understands law enforcement, and she knows what needs to happen to improve both our response to crime and our relationship to the communities we serve and protect.”
To pay for these programs, Nessel said, “It’s time Michigan to remove marijuana from our penal code. It’s time to stop using millions of tax dollars investigating, testing and prosecuting marijuana cases while we still have rape kits sitting on the shelf and cold-case murders which go unsolved. With thousands of opioid overdoses taking place in our state, how much longer can we pretend that marijuana is a worthy target of Michigan’s war against drugs?”
When asked if she forsees any barriers as a lesbian running for office, Nessel said, “The ironic thing about that question is that I’ve had far more people ask me whether it would be a problem potentially having three women on the Democratic ticket than the fact that I am an openly gay person.”
The two other women are Gretchen Whitmer, the Democrats’ nominee for governor, and former Wayne State University law school dean Jocelyn Benson for secretary of state.
“It really tells me a lot about where our country has gone. On one hand, it’s great to have consumers more accepting of openly gay people running for office. On the other hand, it doesn’t bode well for women in this country or in this state that people are more concerned about that,” she said. “So I hope that I can be a good representative and I hope if I’m able to obtain this seat, I want children all around our state who identify as LGBTQ to know that as long as you’re willing to work hard and study the issues and be a good person, the sky is the limit for you and you can achieve anything you set out to achieve. Your sexual orientation or gender identity is not going to make a difference. It’s who you are, not what you are.”
Nessel, 48, is a managing partner in the Nessel and Kessel law firm in downtown Detroit and lives in Plymouth.
Her push for a ballot proposal to update and expand Michigan’s Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity for the 2018 election year will be placed on hold.
However, State Rep. Jon Hoadley (D-Kalamazoo) and Sen. Rebekah Warren (D-Ann Arbor) reintroduced legislation in May to protect Michigan’s LGBTQ community from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations. Members of the community are encouraged to contact their legislators to support this bill.
“I certainly didn’t see the funding in 2018 for us to move forward unfortunately and I had to do what was realistic in that case, but maybe if I’m able to obtain the position of attorney general I can do lots of things for the community in place of the ballot proposal,” said Nessel, adding that it’s possible it will be brought up again in 2020. “I think for a ballot proposal, there are no better spokespeople for those issues than people who currently hold statewide office. Maybe it will give those proposals a better shot.”
Nessel is the first candidate to announce a run to succeed Schuette, who can’t run for reelection because of term limits. It is not yet confirmed whether other Democrats – former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan Pat Miles, state Rep. Tim Greimel of Auburn Hills or Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith – will run.
A Detroit Free Press report said state Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker of Lawton and Speaker of the House Tom Leonard of DeWitt are the names most often mentioned on the Republican side as potential candidates for attorney general.
The nominees for attorney general, secretary of state and lieutenant governor will be chosen by political party delegates at statewide conventions around Labor Day next year. Michigan voters will decide by election who wins on Nov. 6, 2018.