Previewing Michigan's attorney general race: One-on-one with Dana Nessel & Matt DePerno

Posted at 5:55 PM, Nov 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-03 18:08:42-04

(WXYZ) — We're less than a week from the election, and one of the most hotly-contested statewide races is the one for attorney general.

Incumbent Democrat Dana Nessel is being challenged by Republican nominee Matt DePerno, and polls have been showing the race tightening.

Both candidates sat down with me to talk about the big issues and what they believe is at stake.

"What wins do you point to that indicates to voters that you're ready and deserve a second term? Because there have been some losses as well recently, the Flint water crisis being the most recent," I asked Nessel.

"Well, first of all, you know, you show me a lawyer that's never lost a case and I'm going to show you a lawyer that's never done anything consequential in their entire lives. We have brought so many cases at the Department of Attorney General in the last four years and so many great success stories," she said.

Nessel cites a slew of cases as proof of first-term success, including an $800 million settlement against opioid manufacturers and distributors, $2 billion in savings from the utility rate hike intervention, and seven convictions in the clergy abuse scandal. She also points to new initiatives, like creating a hate crimes and domestic terrorism unit.

We have white supremacists and domestic terrorists that are right now in the Michigan Department of Corrections who had plans to blow up grocery stores and churches and synagogues," Nessel said. "So we have had win after win after win."

I asked DePerno why Nessel should not get a second term.

"Well, she's proven over the last four years that she puts politics over victims. We have the highest crime rate in the state right now than we've seen in decades," he said.

"Is there a specific example that you can point to of politics over victims?" I asked.

"Yeah, sure. There is the lawsuit she filed in federal court in Grand Rapids, where she specifically targeted Catholic organizations and adoption procedures. The federal judge in that case told Dana Nessel to stop weaponizing her office," he responded.

DePerno clinched his nomination, in part, on the support of former President Donald Trump, for his questioning and challenging of the 2020 election results.

"What specifically is it about our election process that leads you to believe that there could be large-scale fraud?" I asked.

"Well, we know what happened in the 2020 election. Jocelyn Benson sent out pre-filled absentee ballot applications in violation of the law. A court later determined that that was unconstitutional," he said. "She also told clerks across the state to ignore signature verification requirements that was unconstitutional and illegal. It's the absentee ballot application process right now that doesn't match up with the qualified voter roll that needs to be fixed," he said.

"And is that large enough of a scale that would've changed the 2020 result?" I asked.

"Well, we don't know, do we? All I did was take a look at Antrim County and we saw significant problems in that county, but the Democrats stopped us from looking statewide. So what's wrong with looking?" he said.

A Michigan Court of Appeals ruled Benson was within her rights to mail out the absentee ballots to all voters, but according to investigators, DePerno's looking may have been criminal.

A special prosecutor from Muskegon is reviewing allegations that he illegally accessed voting machines in Antrim County.

"How do you think that your active legal issues weigh on voters right now? Specifically, the accusations that you are alleged to have illegally accessed voting machine equipment?" I asked.

"Well, first, we didn't illegally access anything. We had a court order from the Antrim County Court to examine the Antrim County voting system and look at 22 separate tabulators. But it's a distraction. It is a huge distraction that the voters have to deal with," he said.

The investigation is why Nessel said she's declined to debate DePerno, since the case was referred to her office by Michigan State Police before.

"I can't prosecute my opponent. That's not ethically responsible. So we gave it to the Prosecuting Attorney's Association of Michigan. They referred it to a special prosecutor," Nessel said. "But, if this comes up during the course of a debate, I can't even discuss the details of it. And so it's like going into a boxing match with one hand tied behind my back."

During a gubernatorial debate, Nessel herself was accused of not following the law.

"You were accused of skirting the law by the Republican nominee. You have said previously that you would not prosecute for folks that go through with abortions, correct? How is that not picking and choosing which laws to prosecute and which ones to not?" I asked.

"First of all, when I took an oath for this office, I took an oath to ensure that I was protecting the health, the safety and the welfare of people around this state. And that includes the 2.2 million women of reproductive age. It does not serve the interests of our state to take women and their doctors and their nurses and put them in jail or prison for a medical procedure that has been legal in this state and in this country for 50 years now. I have prosecutorial discretion. There's a lot of types of laws that are routinely not enforced, but they're on the books. I don't enforce adultery laws, for instance. They're on the books. Should I?" she said.

When I asked if DePerno would accept the results of the election, he deflected.

"I'm going to win, so obviously I'll accept the results," he said.

"And if you don't?" I responded.

"Well, I'm going to win. So I'll accept the results," he responded.

You can view both of their entire interviews below.

One-on-one with Attorney General Dana Nessel ahead of Michigan Midterm Election
One-on-one with Republican AG Candidate Matt DePerno ahead of Michigan Midterm Election