Who is Mark Totten and why is he hoping to unseat Bill Schuette?

Mar 19, 2014

Few remember this today, but 24 years ago, Bill Schuette, now Michigan’s Attorney General, gave up a safe seat in Congress in an attempt to defeat U.S. Senator Carl Levin.

Mark Totten was a 16-year-old kid growing up in Kalamazoo back then. Had he been able to, he would have voted for Schuette. His family was solidly Republican.

However, politics weren’t on Totten’s agenda then. As a teenager, his plan was to go to the seminary and become a Baptist minister. Totten went to a small Christian college in Ohio, but his views gradually started to change.

Making the world a better place continued to be important to him, but he realized the Republican Party didn’t represent his values. Totten became a Democrat, and then did something astonishing.

He was accepted simultaneously to one of the most exclusive law schools in the nation – Yale – and to Yale’s doctorate program in ethics. He then proceeded to get both degrees at the same time. Eight years ago he graduated, and worked as an assistant federal prosecutor in Washington, then clerked for a federal judge.

But he realized he wanted to come home, and took a job as a professor at Michigan State University’s College of Law.

Mark Totten intends to score a historic upset and defeat Bill Schuette, who is running for his second term as attorney general.

This year, he turned 40. And this fall, Mark Totten intends to score a historic upset and defeat Bill Schuette, who is running for his second term as attorney general.

And though the odds are against him, he thinks he has a better chance than the analysts think.

“Being attorney general is my dream job,” Totten told me yesterday. “Not as a platform to run for governor, but to help keep the people of this state safe from both violent crime and economic crime.”

Bill Schuette’s own attempt to unseat an incumbent long ago didn’t turn out so well.

Levin beat him badly.

Schuette then toiled in the Engler Administration, went to the State Senate and held a judgeship before finally becoming attorney general three years ago.

There is a common belief in Lansing that Schuette is indeed positioning himself for higher office, probably governor in four years, and he is often accused of pandering to the far right.

Totten, who is unopposed for the Democratic nomination, agrees with that, saying, “since day one, Schuette has used his office to serve his party, his patrons and his political career.”

Schuette will likely have a campaign fund in the millions. Totten, so far, has raised $175,000.

Yet to even many Democrats, his winning seems a near-impossible task. No incumbent Michigan attorney general has been defeated in more than 60 years.

Schuette will likely have a campaign fund in the millions. Totten, so far, has raised $175,000. But the challenger counters by saying, “we’ve never had an attorney general like Bill Schuette.”

Instead of spending vast resources trying to prevent same-sex adoptions, Totten said he would devote his energies to defending Michigan’s Consumer Protection Act – and lobbying for a stronger one.

He wants to stop locking up minor drug offenders and repeal the law giving big drug firms immunity.

What’s clear to me is that Michigan citizens ought to be aware of how important and powerful the attorney general’s office is, and I think Totten could make this an interesting and significant race. If he can somehow get the money and the media attention to do it.