The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Nessel visits Gogebic Range in attorney general's race


February 28, 2018


Ironwood — Democrat Dana Nessel stopped in Ironwood Tuesday during a tour through the Upper Peninsula in her campaign to win the party’s nomination for Michigan attorney general.

Having practiced law for nearly 25 years, one of Nessel’s most famous cases was in 2012 when she challenged Michigan’s ban on adoptions and marriage for same-sex couples in DeBoer v. Snyder. The case would eventually be combined with several others and lead to the U.S. Supreme Court’s legalization of gay marriage.

“That was a happy ending for us,” she joked.

A life-long Michigan resident, Nessel said she worked for the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office for 11 years before leaving to start her own practice in 2005. In private practice, she represented poor clients and handled civil rights actions — giving her a first-hand glimpse into both sides of the state’s criminal justice system.

“I saw a lot of the failings of the criminal justice system, because we really don’t focus on adequate criminal defense for people who are poor and who can’t afford an attorney,” Nessel told the Daily Globe.

It’s her experiences representing both sides that Nessel said she will bring to the position of attorney general.

“Something we haven’t had in that office is somebody who has really seen both sides of the criminal justice system,” she said. “We get people who come in and talk about being tough on crime, we don’t have people who are smart on crime.

“I think they don’t see criminal defendants as people most of the time, they just see them as defendants who belong in jail instead of people who need our help.”

Her experience in the criminal justice system also allowed her to interact with many people who were only a part of the system due to underlying issues such as mental illness, veterans dealing with post-traumatic distress disorders or addicts battling their disease.

These experiences have made Nessel an advocate for diversionary programs, such as drug court or veterans court.

“I think (diversionary programs) are all specific, targeted ways to help people so they’re diverted away from the criminal justice system and into treatment-based programs,” Nessel said. “What you end up doing is, not only do you help a whole lot of people by giving them hope instead of a jail cell; it also saves the state a tremendous amount of money because it costs less money to treat a person that has a problem than to incarcerate them.”

The need for treatment rather than punishment is evident in the country’s opiate crisis, according to Nessel, where many addicts were law-abiding citizens who got hooked on prescription pills after an injury.

“I think we have to stop blaming people for becoming addicts and start helping them — and start putting the blame on places it belongs, in my opinion that’s the pharmaceutical companies,” Nessel said.

She said the companies knew the addiction risks associated with their products, and should be pushed to provide funding to deal with the subsequent costs of addiction.

“I’m talking about paying for drug court, paying for drug treatment, paying for Narcan so our emergency services have that kind of funding,” Nessel said, criticizing Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette for not taking a harder line with the drug companies.

Unlike other state offices which are chosen in statewide primaries, the attorney general candidates are selected by delegates who travel to a party’s convention.

The Democratic convention will take place April 15 in Detroit’s Cobo Hall.

While Nessel has never been a fan of the convention system, she said its flaws are amplified travelling through the U.P.

“I come up here and it’s 10 or 11 hours to have to drive,” Nessel said. “To call it an inconvenience is to minimize how difficult we make it for people to participate in the democratic process.”

In an effort to help those interested in participating in the process in Detroit, Nessel said she is devoting any money made fundraising to covering transportation and accommodation costs for those coming from around the state.

This desire to involve every corner of the state in the process is similar to how she sees the role of attorney general.

“People need help, you know and we ought to have an AG in this state that is accessible to everybody in this state,” Nessel said. “No matter what county you live in, no matter how far you are away from Lansing. We all are deserving of the same kind of state services we pay our taxes for.”

If elected, she said she would push to ensure every county in Michigan had a person to contact in the attorney general’s office so residents would have an avenue to raise issues for her staff to address.

Traveling around the state, she said she has had similar concerns from people — including issues of elder abuse and problem with environmental pollution.

Once again she criticized Schuette’s inaction on enforcing pollution laws, saying the solutions are already there.

“We don’t need any new environmental regulations, we have them on the books just nobody enforces them,” Nessel said.

“These are the kinds of things people are really concerned about,” she continued. “Because if you don’t have your health and you don’t have clean drinking water, you don’t have anything.”

She also sees the office as an important defense against the Trump administration and its rolling back of various regulations and policies, noting other states have successfully taken the administration to court to enforce federal laws.

“These are all great success (attorneys general) are having around the country,” Nessel said. “And I think the Michigan (attorney general) needs to play a role in all of this and needs to get involved so we can protect our state residents who are being harmed by the policies of the Trump administration.”


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