GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Republican nominee for governor Rick Snyder has turned to an inconspicuous member of the Legislature to be his running mate on the November ballot. But the GOP candidate says state Representative Brian Calley brings the right mix of business and political experience to the ticket.
After introducing Brian Calley at a town hall in Grand Rapids, Rick Snyder spoke like the corporate CEO he once was talking up some newly discovered talent in his company. At 33 years old, Calley might be considered young for the job of lieutenant governor. But Snyder says he's fine with it.
"I think 33's a great age," Snyder says. "He's had good private business experience. He's been a successful community banker, so great private sector experience and good legislative experience. And the other part of this is you shouldn't look at just age. This is how we build for the future is we get great young people involved in the process, and so we need more and more great young people like Brian."
Calley's experience includes working as a commercial banker in mid-Michigan before he was elected to the state House almost four years ago. He built a reputation as an expert on tax policy, and someone who could easily work with Republicans and Democrats.
He helped Snyder develop his proposal to replace the Michigan Business Tax with a corporate income tax. But he's also run into some criticism as one of the authors of the Michigan Business Tax. Calley says he did the best he could under the circumstances.
"I looked at it as we needed someone in the room who was fighting for small business and although I was badly outnumbered and there was no way it was going to come out how I wanted it to, at the end of the day we recognized the importance of small business in this state," Calley says.
Bill Ballenger is the editor of the newsletter "Inside Michigan Politics." He says Calley should not cause Snyder any political headaches - and that's the first rule of choosing a running mate.
"Do no harm," Ballenger says. "I don't think there's anything about Brian Calley that's going to send up red flags to anybody anywhere within the party, within the news media, within the electorate. I think he's a very solid guy."
Calley's' not well known outside Lansing or his mid-Michigan district. He does not bring a regional base of support with him. But he is a proven campaigner who just won a hard-fought state Senate primary against an opponent who tried to portray Calley as too soft on core conservative issues. Snyder faces similar criticisms within his party, especially on social issues. He favors allowing abortions for victims of rape and incest and to protect a women's health. And he is for embryonic stem cell research.
Ballenger says Calley could serve as Snyder's bridge to suspicious conservatives.
"You look at Calley's record, you look at his rhetoric and it's hard to say that he's not very solidly conservative," Ballenger says.
Calley has a 100% anti-abortion voting record in the Legislature. And that was welcome news to Michael Lessens who showed up at the Grand Rapids town hall sporting a button.
"It says, Defend the helpless. Vote pro-life,'" Lessens says.
Lessens, who supported another candidate in the GOP primary, he says probably would have voted for Snyder anyway. Democratic nominee Virg Bernero is a fervent supporter of abortion rights. But Lessens says Calley's presence on the ticket makes him more comfortable with his decision.
"Brian Calley can actually give him a little bit more of an education on what's the pro-life position that says, there should be no exceptions, no compromises," says Lessens.
Calley's expected to have no trouble winning the support of the state Republican convention this coming weekend, where delegates will also choose t he balance of the GOP ticket, including candidates for attorney general, secretary of state, and the Michigan Supreme Court. Snyder says he will stay out of those races and leave the choices to the delegates.