Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 10, 2010

Profile: GOP Lt. Gov. candidate Calley

Political interest came early


---- — ANN ARBOR (AP) — Brian Calley was just 11 years old when outgoing President Ronald Reagan gave his final official address from the Oval Office.

Calley remembers lying on the floor at his home, watching the historic speech in January 1989. It provided early motivation for a fast-paced political career that, at the relatively young age of 33, has Calley on the Republican ticket seeking to become Michigan's next lieutenant governor.

"It made quite an impression," Calley says of the Reagan farewell address made 21 years ago. "He was a president who knew how to communicate in an amazing way. From there on out, I had a high level of interest in politics."

As a middle schooler, Calley wrote a letter to former President Gerald Ford, asking about how he got started in public service. Ford sent back a personalized response, along with an autographed photo that hangs in Calley's office today.

By the time he reached high school, Calley was knocking on doors for candidates.

The resident of Danby Township, near Portland, was elected to the Ionia County Board of Commissioners at age 25 and to the Michigan House at 29. Now he's one of the state Republican Party's rising young stars, tapped by gubernatorial candidate Rick Snyder to be his running mate in November.

Snyder comes from outside the Lansing establishment. Calley has been at the Capitol for less than four years, but he's quickly built a reputation as a thoughtful policy guru who is more likely to discuss bill details than fire off political soundbites.

If Snyder defeats Democrat Virg Bernero in November, Calley would be a go-to guy for pushing policy changes through a new state Legislature — especially for bills related to tax issues and economic development.

Republicans and Democrats alike often file by Calley's desk on the House floor to find out his position on tax policy bills before casting their own votes. Even if they don't agree with him, they want to know where he stands and why.

"He is regarded as being wise beyond his years," says Rep. Ken Kurtz, R-Coldwater.

Republicans are the minority party in the Michigan House, yet a half-dozen bills sponsored by Calley have been signed into law during his four-year legislative career. Two dealt with property taxes.

Calley sponsored a bill signed into law in 2009 that exempts baby-sitting from Michigan day care regulations. Calley introduced the legislation after a state agency warned a Barry County woman to stop watching her friend's children before school, which it construed as a potential violation of law aimed at the operators of unlicensed day care centers.

Calley has worked well with Democrats and Republicans in Lansing because he isn't into "partisan bomb-throwing," says Rep. John Proos, R-St. Joseph.

"He understands the politics, but he's driven by the policy," says Rep. James "Jase" Bolger, R-Marshall.

The interest in policy and politics came courtesy of animated family conversations including Calley's father, Ionia doctor Doyle Calley.

"It would kind of bore other people," Doyle Calley says. "But we were always discussing it — which candidates we liked and which ones we didn't like. We'd have some lively discussions."

Brian Calley credits his father with helping shape his philosophy.

"The things that you consider to be taboo in polite conversation are exactly the sorts of things my family debated all growing up — religion and politics and that sort of thing," he said, sitting in an Ann Arbor conference center lobby before a recent campaign event. "The kids in my family were always challenged to take note of what's happening in the world around them."

Church was mandatory and it's still a big part of Calley's life. An avid piano player, Calley is a song leader at his Baptist church.

Calley was just 19 when he married his high school sweetheart, Julie Calley, who is now an Ionia County commissioner. They have three children: 6-year-old son Collin; 3-year-old daughter Reagan, named after the former president; and seven-month-old daughter Karagan. Earlier this year, Reagan was diagnosed with autism and Karagan underwent surgery to address a heart defect.

"I would not wish that experience on anybody, and yet I wouldn't trade it, either. ... It's made my wife and I who we are today, and it's had an impact on so many other people around us," he says.

Calley's mild-mannered, positive approach was honed through a decade spent in the banking industry, specializing in small businesses loans. Colleagues say he had a knack for dealing with customers even when the news he had to deliver wasn't good.

The economic news for Michigan lately hasn't been good, with the state continuing to have one of the nation's highest unemployment rates. But Calley says that can change with a fresh approach that sets aside political and geographical differences within the state to focus on common goals.

"I've found that with a positive attitude, you can really find solutions to difficult problems," Calley said. "If you go into it with that attitude, you'll be successful more often than not."