It has been 60 years since an incumbent attorney general in Michigan has lost a bid for reelection, but Mark Totten, Michigan State University law professor and Democratic nominee for that spot, is hoping to bring that streak to an end. Totten, 40, has both a law degree and Ph.D. in ethics from Yale University and his past experience includes stints as a staff attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice and a clerkship for a federal judge.
A native Michigander and resident of Kalamazoo, Totten has been on the law faculty at Michigan State University since 2008, and for three years served concurrently as a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Michigan. Totten feels that incumbent Bill Schuette has used the office to “wage a series of extreme crusades that have left every family and every student in this state less safe.” He believes the attorney general’s role is to be “the people’s lawyer,” and has positioned himself on the issues through that lens. Here are five major issues Mark Totten wants to focus on.
Totten wants to reemphasize efforts to protect people from violent crime, whether at the hands of armed criminals or domestic abusers and sexual assailants. In addition to advocating for survivors, Totten wants to protect public education funding from further cuts and expand prisoner reentry programs as a means of crime prevention.
Aside from violent crime, Totten believes the attorney general must do a better job protecting people from economic crimes as well. Michigan was one of the states hardest-hit during the housing crisis, as many families fell victim to predatory lending schemes that often resulted in home foreclosure. In an interview with the Daily, Totten said he believes Schuette has not done enough to hold lenders accountable or assist citizens affected by the crisis.
Strengthening Consumer Protection and ending drug immunity
Somewhat related to economic crime protection are Michigan’s consumer protection laws, which Totten characterized as some of the weakest in the nation, as they are filled with exemptions for businesses that would normally be compelled to comply with the regulations. In addition to tightening protections for consumers in a variety of transactional areas, Totten also wants to end Michigan’s drug immunity law.
“We’re the only state in the nation that says if you are harmed or killed by a prescription drug you are helpless to do anything about it,” he said in a statement.
If elected, Totten said he would use his office to better protect women’s interests, such as ensuring access to contraception. He has accused Schuette of being the most active Attorney General on behalf of Hobby Lobby, which argued that corporations should not be required to provide insurance policies that cover the purchase of contraceptives.
Totten is concerned with the amount of debt that students accrue by the time they graduate college, and said part of the problem stems from lenders and loan servicers acting in bad faith. He said private lenders “try to steer students into products that are much more expensive when the student otherwise might have qualified for subsidized loans in the first instance.” As Attorney General, Totten said he would be active in fighting these groups in court.
Though he is 40 years old, Totten said he felt this was the right time to run for this office because he was concerned with the direction the office was taking. He said the job is so important because most people — even those in the middle class — cannot afford lawyers of their own.
“When there are harms that affect thousands of people across the state, they really depend upon the Attorney General who is acting as their lawyer,” he said. “I don’t think that mission is being fulfilled now.”
With just under seven weeks until election day, a Detroit News poll has Schuette leading Totten 40-38 among decided voters.