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Plenty of challenges face Lt. Gov. Calley's candidacy

Apr 24, 2017

Well, it’s now all but official: Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley is running for governor next year. Running, that is, to try to win the Republican primary in August 2018.

He’s posted a video of a “countdown clock” on his website, and appears to be marching towards a formal announcement of his candidacy on May 30, during the Mackinac Policy Conference when the state’s political, business and media leaders get together.

Last week, Congressman Dan Kildee, a man who may well run for the Democratic nomination, told me it is “too soon” to have to decide about running -- and it’s hard not to sympathize with that.

The primary is more than 15 months away. Babies will be born before that election whose parents don’t even know each other yet.

But the reality of politics today means you have to start running long before any election to have any chance at raising enough money to be competitive. Calley will actually be the second Republican to formally declare he’s running. Jim Hines, a little-known obstetrician from Saginaw, has been in there since January, but he’s not the candidate Calley has to worry about.

The favorite in this race is a man who has yet to formally declare, but who has been running for governor since sometime after his umbilical cord was severed: Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette. Now, I know principled Republicans who would prefer Calley. They regard the attorney general as a grandstander who would say or do anything to get elected.

But Calley faces several huge obstacles. One is that he could walk into a shopping mall anywhere outside Lansing, and be virtually unrecognized. He is also soft-spoken and almost looks too young to be in politics. That’s not necessarily bad.

When Bill Milliken was lieutenant governor, he would sometimes be stopped in the Capitol by security guards who thought he was a student who had wandered away from the tour.

But Calley’s biggest problem is that he will be running for what will be perceived as a continuation of the Snyder administration, and it would be hard to find anyone who wants that.

People normally want change after eight years. Donald Trump used this to great advantage when he said that Hillary Clinton was running for a third Obama term.

And the Obama administration did not have the Flint poisoned water scandal as part of its legacy.

The Snyder administration does. Calley is part of that administration, and he is about to face an unenviable dilemma. Does he try to defend how Snyder handles Flint?

Does he essentially repudiate the governor, criticize his handling of the crisis and say he’d have done it all differently? Basically, he’s in a no-win situation. That’s why lieutenant governors, like vice presidents, usually lose when they try for their boss’s job.

I saw Governor Milliken attempt to anoint his friend and lieutenant governor, Jim Brickley, only to see Brickley lose the primary to a loud-mouthed conservative who blasted the Milliken administration. Dick Posthumus did manage to win his primary when he tried to succeed John Engler 15 years ago, but lost the general election.

You never say never in politics; we learned that once again last November. Lieutenant Governor Calley won’t have it easy. But I think he deserves respect for making the effort.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s senior political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, the University of Michigan.