A tight-lipped talk with Brian Calley

He may not be Lt. Gov. Brian Calley anymore, but he is the same ol’ Brian, who is somewhat of a challenge to interview.

He steadfastly refuses to entertain hypothetical questions and, for darn sure, “I’m not going to let you put words in my mouth” just because I’ve changed jobs, he chuckles.

This reporter caught up with Mr. Calley backstage at the Lansing Center the other day in Calley’s new role as president of the Small Business Association of Michigan and, when it came to discussing a variety of issues, not much has changed.

While other business organizations have warmly embraced Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s gas tax hike proposal to fix the roads, when pressed for SBAM’s stance, Mr. Calley joyfully stayed on message throughout the cross-examination, and refused to bite.

Did his group back the proposed 45-cents-per-gallon tax hike?

“We have not chosen a plan to do it, but we do need to find ways to get more revenue into the roads.”

That was as far as he would go.

Did he personally support the gas tax hike?

“I don’t speak ahead of my legislative action council,” he reports of the council composed of SBAM members across the political spectrum. He gets his marching orders from the group, which he discloses is one-third Republcan, one-third Democratic, and the remainder are independents. Mr. Calley indicates the group “remains open to all possibilities” on the road-fix issue, but you won’t get him to commit to any one of them, no matter what.

Somewhat surprisingly on the proposed fire sale of the Blue Water Bridge and redoing how Canada is paying for the Gordie Howe International Bridge to Canada from Detroit, one of the shining jewels of the previous Snyder administration, he actually gave a straight-up answer to those ideas floated by his former colleagues in the GOP House caucus.

He gave a direct “no” answer on the Blue Water span and said, “I was one of the first to sound the alarm” on the move by some Republicans regarding the Howe bridge. He reports that, after he contacted state Rep. Matt Maddock and Speaker Lee Chatfield, “they responded” and dialed back those efforts.

Next, is SBAM in-step with other segments of the business community in embracing efforts to expand the state civil rights act to ban housing and employment discrimination against the LGBQT community?

Mr. Calley reports the issue, to his knowledge, has never come up before the group’s legislative action council and, therefore, he had nothing to say on that.

“If the Legislature puts it on the table, it will be taken up.”

Finally, out of left field to the former GOP candidate for governor, “Is Gretchen Whitmer doing better than a Bill Schuette would have done?”

Recall Calley and Schuette got ugly in their campaign attacks, with Mr. Calley at one point accusing his opponent of exploiting the Flint water crisis for his own political gain in the race. That was then and now is now.

He is laughing as he swifly moves to brush aside such a pointed question, revealing not even a hint of his heated rhetoric on the stump.

“Come on,” he begins. “I’m RPA still. (Relentless Positive Action, Gov. Snyder’s motto). There are certain aspects of life,” he turns philosophical, “where it is makes sense to follow the positive and focus on the future and let the past be the past.”

He does report that, “I’m impressed with leadership this term and the governor” as he hopes they continue to work in a bipartisan manner as they did on no-fault. “That was very, very impressive,” he observes, while noting that they have built some goodwill and trust and they should use it to resolve the state budget.

“The governor has set the right priorities,” he concludes, but it’s not clear if he has the legislative council’s green light to say that.