Tom Leonard (Michigan politician)
Tom Leonard (born April 20, 1981) is a member of the Michigan House of Representatives and currently serves as Speaker of the House. Elected in 2012 to succeed term-limited Paul Opsommer, Leonard represents the residents of Clinton and Gratiot County. In November 2016, Leonard was selected by the House Republican Caucus to serve as Speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives, succeeding term-limited Speaker Kevin Cotter. In January 2017, Leonard was formally elected Speaker of the House by a unanimous bipartisan vote of the entire Michigan House of Representatives.
Background and Education
Leonard received his Juris Doctorate from Michigan State University College of Law and was the Graduating Class President. He also received the Ralph M. Freeman Scholarship, which is annually awarded to the student that most exemplifies the Rules of Professional Conduct by treating others with courtesy and respect. Leonard also earned his Bachelor’s degree in History and Spanish from the University of Michigan.
Prior to elected office, Leonard focused his career on the law and law enforcement. He first served in the Genesee County Prosecutor's Office under longtime Democrat prosecutor David Leyton. While there, Leonard prosecuted some of Michigan's most dangerous criminals while assigned to the Special Crimes Division in Flint.
Later, Leonard became an assistant attorney general for the State of Michigan and defended Michigan taxpayers from frivolous lawsuits. While there, Leonard worked under former attorney general Mike Cox.
In 2012, Leonard left the attorney general's office to serve his community as its state representative. Leonard won his election and took office in January 2013. During his first term in office, Leonard was elected to the House Leadership team as Majority Caucus Vice-Chair. After serving as the ranking Vice-Chair of the Insurance committee, Leonard was selected as Chair of the House Insurance Committee in his second term. Leonard was also chosen by his Republican Colleagues in 2014 to serve as second-in-line in House leadership as the Speaker Pro-Tempore, a position which allowed him to preside over the House as Speaker during the absence of the Speaker of the House.
In September 2013, Tom was honored to be selected as one of the American Conservative Union’s “10 under 40” rising conservative leaders from across the country. He was given the opportunity to address the Conservative Political Action Committee in St. Louis, Missouri along with the likes of Governor Rick Perry and Senator Rick Santorum.
Leonard is a Concealed Pistol License (CPL) holder and a Lifetime NRA member. He has maintained an A+ rating with the Michigan Coalition for Responsible Gun Owners (“MCRGO”-PAC) and an “A” rating from the NRA for helping preserve the right to keep and bear arms in the state legislature. In Leonard’s first term, he co-sponsored legislation that protects law abiding citizens' CPL information from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Leonard is a member of the DeWitt Lions Club, National Rifle Association, and the Clinton County Farm Bureau. He is also the former chairman of the DeWitt Public Safety Committee and an active member of the St. Johns Kiwanis Club. Leonard and his wife Jenell, who serves as the Director of the Michigan Film and Digital Media Office, live in DeWitt Charter Township with their daughter, Hannah.
Since taking office, Leonard has been a strong advocate for public safety and victims’ rights; particularly reforming laws to protect the elderly. The first bill he introduced increased penalties against those that embezzle funds from vulnerable adults. The legislation passed the House and Senate and Governor Rick Snyder signed it into law in May 2013. Other legislation Leonard has sponsored includes protections for victims’ families entitled to restitution, as well as children who are preyed upon by sexual predators.
Immediately after securing support among his Republican colleagues to be the next Speaker of the House, Leonard laid out three top priorities for his final term in the Legislature. His three priorities were mental health reform, expanding skilled trades education in Michigan schools, and reforming the state's underwater teacher pension fund.
Mental Health Reform
As the chairman of the House Insurance Committee, Leonard focused on reforming auto insurance to reduce rates for drivers and reforming the state's mental health system. Specifically, he led an effort to reform a state program, known as Kevin's Law, which allowed concerned family members to get critical help for those suffering from mental illness before a crime was committed.
After being elected Speaker, Leonard created a bipartisan task force to travel around the state listening to testimony on various issues with the state's mental health system and collecting potential legislative reforms to address the situation. The task force completed its tour in late 2017 and will present its findings in a public report and begin drafting legislation in January 2018.
The first bill introduced in the Michigan House under Speaker Leonard was House Bill 4001, a measure to reduce the state income tax. The income tax had been raised under then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm in 2009 while the state struggled with a budget shortfall. The rate increase was intended to be temporary, but it never came back down to the original level.
Transparency and Ethics
In early 2017, the Michigan House introduced, debated and unanimously passed a series of reforms to expand the state's Freedom of Information Act and open the state Legislature to open records requests for the first time. Leonard had previously declared an interest in renewing the legislation after its failure in previous years, citing his goal of increasing civility in state government.
Citing the highest auto insurance rates in the nation, Speaker Leonard teamed up with Detroit's democrat mayor Mike Duggan to propose reform's to Michigan's current no-fault auto insurance system. The proposed bill would have introduced more options for drivers in their auto coverage and would have saved drivers up to 50% on their monthly bills.
The legislation did not pass after failing to garner sufficient support from democrat lawmakers. After the vote, one high-ranking democrat representative admitted his political ambitions and future leadership politics played a role in the lack of support.
Criminal Justice Reform
The first bills signed into law in Michigan in 2017 were a package of bills to reform the state's prison system and reduce recidivism. A similar package of bills had failed during the previous term.
Serving in House leadership every term in the state legislature, Leonard has been at the forefront of debate with Michigan’s budget. Under Leonard’s leadership, he has worked with colleagues to pass a sound and balanced budget months ahead of schedule each year that invests in important areas such as education, public safety and infrastructure. Leonard has also overseen a significant overhaul of Michigan’s rainy day fund, paying off substantial amounts of long-term debt that has hindered the state for years. By standing firm on the principle that government must be responsible and accountable with every taxpayer dollar Michigan’s bond rating has significantly increased, ensuring the state is prepared in times of crisis.
Leonard announced on August 11, 2011 that he was running for State Representative to represent Michigan's 93rd District. Leonard planned to embody "principled, conservative leadership in the State House" and on bringing his experience as a former prosecutor to stand up for the citizens of Michigan. Leonard received some prominent endorsements in the primary, including Senator Alan Cropsey, Clinton County Sheriff Wayne Kangas, and the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce. After a hard-fought race, he narrowly won the August 7th Republican primary against Clinton County farmer Kevin Kirk by 204 votes. Leonard went on to win the 2012 November general election with 56.6% of the vote and assumed office in January 2013.
Leonard has been reelected to his seat twice, defeating Josh Derke by over 20% in 2014 and almost 30% in 2016. He ran for re-election with jobs and the economy, fiscal responsibility, fighting crime, defending life, the second amendment, agriculture, and senior citizens as issues central to his campaign. Leonard was supported by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Business, and the Small Business Association of Michigan.
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