GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Republican gubernatorial candidates Bill Schuette, Brian Calley, Patrick Colbeck, and Jim Hines sparred with one another over the state’s handling of the Flint water crisis during the first of two televised debates Wednesday.

Michigan’s lieutenant governor, Brian Calley, was the first candidate to bring the water crisis up, saying that Attorney General Bill Schuette had politicized the criminal investigation into the lead contamination of Flint’s water.

“The attorney general has used it as though it is some kind of launching pad for a campaign for governor,” Calley remarked.

Schuette responded by saying that the investigation was about “accountability and justice” and that attacks on it were arrogant.

“Twelve people died. Kids were poisoned. To think you could try to sweep it under the rug… is the height of arrogance,” said Schuette. “If I didn’t have this investigation I would not have been doing my job.”

Schuette went on to say that people in Flint are still reeling from the effects of the water crisis, and that residents of the city still rely on the free bottled water that the state recently decided to stop supplying. State Senator Patrick Colbeck pushed back, saying that the state has already “fixed the problem,” but recognizing that updated infrastructure will be necessary to prevent similar situations in the future.

The fourth candidate, Dr. Jim Hines, said that he is the only Republican who should be trusted to address issues like the Flint water crisis since he is the only one who is not already an elected official.

“We’ve focused so much on the prosecution and defense, we’ve forgotten the people of Flint,” Hines said before agreeing with Schuette that the state’s decision to end bottled water distribution in the city was premature.

Calley and Schuette previously criticized one another’s roles in the water crisis after the lieutenant governor tweeted that the attorney general’s investigation was a “gross abuse of power.”

Other topics discussed during the hour-long debate, which aired on WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids, include school safety, legalizing marijuana, and auto insurance.

“Instead of helping working families, Bill Schuette and Brian Calley just offered more of the same harmful policies that have been benefiting special interest donors and establishment insiders like themselves for nearly a decade,” Michigan Democratic Party Chair Brandon Dillon said in response to the debate.

The Michigan Democratic Party is expected to announce two official debates of their own, potentially as soon as next week.

Public Opinion Strategies polling shows Schuette holding a 22-point lead on his closest opponent, Calley, who polled at 20-percent support. Colbeck came in third with 6-percent of surveyed Michigan Republicans supporting him, while Hines polled at 2-percent support. However, recent polling by EPIC-MRA shows Schuette losing in hypothetical general election match-ups against Democrats Gretchen Whitmer and Shri Thanedar. The third Democratic candidate, Abdul El-Sayed, was not polled against Schuette.

Schuette has been endorsed by President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and former Michigan Governor John Engler, while Calley picked up the endorsement of incumbent Governor Rick Snyder. Colbeck has received the endorsements of U.S. Senator Ted Cruz and Fox News host Sean Hannity.

WDIV-TV will host the second official GOP debate on June 28. Schuette, Calley, Colbeck, and Hines have all agreed to participate.

Michigan Democrats, Republicans, and Libertarians will vote to choose their nominees on Aug. 7.

Andrew Roth is a reporter and photographer covering politics and policy in Michigan, as well technology, culture and their convergence. Andrew is a journalism student at Michigan State University and first...