Traverse City Record-Eagle


March 30, 2014

Jack Lessenberry: Reaching the voters takes money

Mark Totten didn’t think much about politics back in the 1980s when he was growing up in Kalamazoo, a classic Midwestern town, halfway between Detroit and Chicago.

His parents and grandparents were Republicans, so he thought of himself as one, too. His parents were divorced and there wasn’t much money, so he mowed lawns and delivered papers.

He thought during high school that he might want to go to the seminary and become a Baptist minister. Today, at 40, he is still very much a part of Kalamazoo. He lives there and until recently, served on the school board. Most Sundays, he and his wife Kristin take their two small children to church, and then for a family hike.

They look like the extremely straight arrows they are.

Except some things have dramatically changed.

Totten is an extremely high-powered lawyer, who managed to earn both a law degree and a Ph.D. in ethics from Yale University — at the same time. (His wife is also an attorney who mainly represents children with disabilities) He’s served as an assistant federal prosecutor and clerk to a federal judge.

Now, he is a professor at Michigan State University’s college of law, and wants a new job: He is running for state attorney general — as a Democrat. Republicans, he said, no longer represent his values.

Being the state’s top attorney would be “my dream job,” he said over lunch last week. “I want this office to be what it once was — the people’s lawyer. That means keeping the people safe — from violent crime, but also the crime that happens in corporate boardrooms.”

“Things need to change.”

He knows that won’t be easy. Michigan’s current Attorney General, Bill Schuette, is heavily favored to win another term. He is expected to have a campaign war chest in the millions.

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