The attempt by the Oakland C. Board of Commish to replace the late Brooks Patterson as Oakland Co. Exec. continues. Gov. Whitmer and state Senate Majority Leader Shirkey cope with perception that they may not be able to work out an agreement on the FY 2020 state budget by the start of next fiscal year.
MI Civil Rights Commission says it is standing by its decision to keep Director Arbulu in the wake of demands by Gov. Whitmer and some two dozen legislative Dems that he resign in the wake of inappropriate comments he has made “objectifying” women. Interview with Derek Bajema, director of the MI Soft Drink Assoc. Sponsored by www.vanguard-pa.com and www.deadlinedetroit.com.
8/9/19 Oakland Co. Executive L. Brooks Patterson dies at age 80, provoking battle to replace him. Not many races in MI’s primary election, which produces few surprises, little campaign spending, and skimpy voter turnout.
Dems mount recall campaign against beleaguered state Rep. Larry Inman, but if it appears petitioners may gather enough signatures, might state House of Reps expel him instead? Interview with Mike Kowall (R-White Lake), former state Senate majority floor leader now employed by office of Oakland Co. Executive. Sponsored by www.DeadlineDetroit.com and www.Vanguard-pa.com.
Just a quick note to let everyone know that copies of the Almanac of American Politics 2020 are now officially back from the printer! You can get a 10% discount on your order by ordering at https://www.thealmanacofamericanpolitics.com/ and using the discount code LOUISANDFRIENDS.
THE BALLENGER REPORT has no skin in the game on this offer, just an interest in making sure all Michigan political junkies know it’s out there and they ought to take advantage of it. As you know, THE BALLENGER REPORT has run excerpts from the book on this website. So have a few other publications in other states — usually the state overview chapter, and in some cases the gubernatorial profile as well. Here are links to the chapters that have been re-published to date:
The Nevada Independent https://t.co/pTGZLwMROe and https://t.co/HDO3prd8T7
The Saporta Report (Georgia) https://t.co/odit9eRc1Z
Maryland Matters http://bit.ly/2KuifLn and http://bit.ly/2K8w6Xs
Tennessee Journal https://t.co/7jd2SsOliY and http://bit.ly/31l9nyf
The Ballenger Report (Michigan) https://t.co/Cx3A5OvFEP
The publisher has a few more excerpts like these in the works in a variety of still more states.
This book is the best, and you’ll never get a better deal than this one!
It appears the late conservative icon William F. Buckley is about to get validation, from an unexpected source, of one of his most famous “bon mots.”
Buckley said he’d rather be governed by people picked at random from the Boston telephone book than by the Harvard University faculty.
There is good reason to believe Michigan’s new independent commission charged with redistricting Congressional and legislative districts after the 2020 census will be composed of citizens, chosen lottery-style, who won’t meet the criteria promised in Proposal 2 approved by the state’s voters last November.
At least one influential critic claims that Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s application form (to be a commissioner) falls far short in seeking demographic information from those who want to serve.
More demographic categories must be added to the application to achieve a redistricting commission that actually mirrors Michigan’s diversity, according to a “public comment” submitted to Benson by longtime attorney/election law guru Bob LaBrant.
Here are LaBrant’s comments in their entirety:
“The Michigan Independent Redistricting Commission was established when voters adopted Proposal 2 on the November 6, 2018, statewide ballot. The Commission will consist of 13 individuals, who within the last six years have had no partisan governmental or political experience or have any close family relatives who do.
“Those 13 individuals are to be randomly selected by the Secretary of State using “accepted statistical weighting methods to ensure that the three pools (Republican, Democratic and no-party affiliation) of applicants as closely as possible mirror the geographic and demographic make-up of the state.”
The constitutional amendment does not detail what specific demographic questions will be asked on the application. The text of the proposed amendment only says the Secretary of State shall make applications available to the general public no later than January 1 of the year of the federal decennial census (January 1, 2020).
“Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson claims that, under the 2018 amendment, she is not required to ask for public comment on the draft Commissioner application that is posted on her department’s website, but in the interest of transparency she will accept public comment on her proposed Commissioner application until August 9, 2019.
“Although not specifically addressed in the 2018 constitutional amendment, a case can be made that the Secretary of State is not exempt in her limited redistricting role, as the Secretary of State, from the Michigan Administrative Procedures Act (rulemaking, notice, comment, judicial review). Is she suggesting that choosing which demographic characteristic to select or omit from the Commissioner application is subject only to her whim? Hard to believe that, as a former law school dean, Secretary Benson would maintain that the inclusion or exclusion of a question is not subject to judicial review, since the U.S. Supreme Court recently reviewed a legal challenge to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce’s attempt to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census form under the federal Administrative Procedures Act. Her decision in this draft application to prohibit all precinct delegates and their close relatives from submitting Commissioner applications may or may not be correct, but that prohibition should be subject to APA rulemaking.
“The 2018 constitutional amendment says the Commission should be made up of Commissioners who reflect Michigan’s demographic and geographic diversity.
“The 2018 redistricting amendment does not specifically define “demographic.” Absent a definition in the text of the constitution, the Michigan Supreme Court says to look to the term’s ordinary meaning, including its dictionary definition.
“Demographic information refers to the statistics that describe a population and can be used to divide that population into different groups. Examples of demographic information include age, gender, race, income, marital status, educational attainment and political preference.”
“Secretary Benson’s draft application is extremely thin on questions asking about the demographic characteristics of an applicant — limiting them to just four categories: age, voting address, gender and race. These categories are so thin that it fails to meet the constitutional requirement that the Commission “should mirror the geographic and demographic makeup of the state.”
“The Commissioner application as currently written does not meet the test of ensuring diversity because the draft application fails to ask at all about such demographic characteristics as educational attainment, income, veteran or disability status.
“The demographic questions currently asked in the draft application would permit all 13 Commissioners to be millionaires or, in the other extreme, all 13 Commissioners could have incomes below the poverty level. Without having a question on educational attainment, all 13 Commissioners could have Ph.D.’s or all 13 Commissioners could be high school dropouts.
“Secretary of State Benson should revise her draft Redistricting Commissioner Application. In revising the application, she need not look any farther than the U. S. Census Bureau’s Michigan Electorate Profile and use the same categories found in that profile based upon the U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent American Community Survey. Using those same categories, here is what the Michigan Independent Redistricting Commission would likely look like:
% of the Michigan Electorate
Male 48.65% Six Commissioners
Female 51.35% Seven Commissioners
18-24 years 18% Two Commissioners
25-44 years 26.2% Three Commissioners
45-64 years 35.9% Five Commissioners
65 years and over 19.9% Three Commissioners
Race and Hispanic origin
White 79.3% Ten Commissioners
Black 13.9% Two Commissioners
Other One Commissioner
American Indian 1.2%
Median household income (MHI) $52,492
Higher than MHI At least Six Commissioners
Lower than MHI At least Six Commissioners
Income below the poverty level 13.3% Two Commissioners
Bachelor’s degree or higher 28.3% Four Commissioners
Less than a college degree 71.7% Nine Commissioners
Veteran Status 7.2% One Commissioner
Disability status 14.5% Two Commissioners
Political Party allocation required in the 2018 amendment:
Self-identified Republicans Four Commissioners
Self-identified Democrats Four Commissioners
Self-identified as having no party affiliation Five Commissioners
Wayne, Oakland, Macomb Counties Five Commissioners
Thumb, Genesee, Saginaw, Bay,
and surrounding counties Two Commissioners
West Michigan-Grand Rapids, Muskegon,
Holland, Kalamazoo, Benton Harbor, etc. Three Commissioners
Mid-Michigan- Ann Arbor, Brighton, Two Commissioners
Lansing, Battle Creek, Mt. Pleasant, Jackson, Monroe
Northern Lower Michigan & the U.P. One Commissioner
“Modeling the Commissioner application to reflect the same categories found in the U.S. Census Bureau’s Michigan Electorate Profile would ensure a Commission that is a true reflection of Michigan’s diverse population.
“The two optional questions included in the draft application (1) Why you politically identify with a party or do not?, and (2) Why you want to serve on the Commission?) are unfortunately irrelevant because those subjective personal “essays” have no constitutional basis in a strictly random selection process. The only rationale offered for these two essays is to give the four legislative leaders something to consider when each leader gets to blackball up to five semi-finalists out of a field of 200 applicants who have survived the statistically weighted random draw.
“We need to remember that, unlike the California Independent Redistricting Commission, the 2018 Michigan redistricting amendment (Proposal 2) does NOT require anyone to have experience, training, education, specialized skills or expertise. Selection as a Commissioner is based entirely on an applicant’s geographic residence and the demographic characteristics they possess.
“Under the 2018 redistricting amendment, an applicant does not ever have a face-to-face job interview. This is in sharp contrast with a thorough personal interview process that Independent Redistricting Commissioner applicants have in California, but that was the choice of the drafters of (Michigan’s) Proposal 2 to make Commissioner selection purely random.
“The draft application DOES make a non-binding attempt to get applicants to pledge in their application (1 e. and 1 f.) that he or she will, if selected, act impartially, with integrity, and will work collaboratively with their fellow Commissioners to reach a consensus. Again, there is no constitutional basis for those non-binding pledges in the application, and they should be deleted in favor of adding more demographic categories to the application.”
Michigan’s rookie Democratic Governor, Gretchen Whitmer, is rated in the “surviving” category with seven other just-elected governors, according to Lou Jacobson, writing in GOVERNING magazine.
Jacobson writes about Whitmer as well as the history of Michigan politics and government in the about-to-be-released 2020 edition of the Almanac of American Politics.
The Almanac has long been considered “The Bible of American Politics.” The Almanac covers all 50 U.S. governors. In GOVERNING, Jacobson rates 11 freshmen governors as “thriving” and only one — Alaska’s Republican CEO — as “struggling.”
Here’s how the Almanac describes Whitmer’s performance so far:
“Whitmer seems to enjoy the job and has been consistent in trumpeting her main campaign promise — “Fix the Damn Roads” — which was to hike the gas tax to pay for a $2.5 billion transportation package annually for the next decade.
“Meanwhile, despite early veto threats, Whitmer signed an auto insurance rate reform bill that eluded resolution for years. It earned unanimous Republican support while splitting Democratic legislators. The downside risk for Whitmer is that if differences over the gas tax persist, it could push the state to the brink of a government shutdown.”
Beyond Whitmer’s job performance, here’s a sneak preview of the Almanac’s “state overview” of Michigan’s political climate:
Michigan, though politically competitive in state-level races, hadn’t voted Republican for president since 1988–until 2016, when Donald Trump won it by three-tenths of 1 percent. It was one of the three states, along with Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, that enabled him to win the presidency by a healthy Electoral College margin, buoyed by a surge in blue-collar voters in declining industrial areas and apparent indifference from the Hillary Clinton campaign. But the state swung back in the 2018 midterm elections, flipping the governorship, the attorney general and the secretary of state–a shift that underlined how crucial the state will be in the 2020 presidential election.
Nearly 200 years ago, when the French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville wanted to visit the American frontier, he boarded a boat and steamed across Lake Erie to visit the Michigan Territory. Tocqueville was not the first Frenchman to travel there. In the 17th century, French explorers and missionaries sailed the Great Lakes and slapped their version of Indian names on the landscape, which is why Michigan’s ch is pronounced like sh and why Mackinac is pronounced with a silent final c. (But Michiganders don’t carry it to extremes: Detroit ends with a robust English oit.) Michigan was not effectively occupied by the United States until 1796 and was bypassed in the initial westward rush into Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. In 1831, Tocqueville was still able to travel through virgin woods occupied by Indian tribes. But later in that decade, Michigan was settled in a rush by Yankee migrants from upstate New York and New England, who cut down trees and built farms and orderly towns complete with schools and colleges. Politically, Michigan was full of Yankee reformers who hated slavery, manned the Underground Railroad, promoted temperance and in 1855 gave Michigan a constitution that banned (as its successors have done to this day) capital punishment. Michigan was one of the birthplaces of the Republican Party, which held its first official meeting in Jackson in 1854, and up through the 1920s, Michigan was one of the most Republican states in the nation.
After the Civil War, Michigan developed an industrial economy. Its Lower Peninsula was mostly covered with trees, and lumber was the first boom industry on which Michigan relied too much. (Even today, half the state’s land area remains forested, supporting a popular hunting culture, though one that’s declining as baby boomers age.) Forests were clear-cut or swept by blazes such as the 1881 fire that burned out half of Michigan’s “Thumb.” In the late 1800s, huge copper deposits were discovered on the Keweenaw Peninsula, which juts from the Upper Peninsula into icy Lake Superior. (The state includes 40,000 square miles of the Great Lakes, making almost half of Michigan water.) Immigrants from Italy and Finland, Cornwall and Croatia found work in the mines. Then came the auto industry. A combination of accident and shrewdness–the prickly genius of Henry Ford and the willingness of local bankers to finance auto startups–ensured that America’s fastest-growing industry for the first 30 years of the 20th century was centered in Michigan. Detroit became a boomtown — the nation’s fastest-growing major metropolitan area after Los Angeles, which was then much smaller. The three-county Detroit metro area zoomed from a population of 426,000 in 1900 to 2.2 million in 1930, more than half the 4.3 million it has today. The auto industry drew labor from outside Michigan, from southern Ontario, and from the farms of Ohio and Indiana. It attracted Poles and Italians, Hungarians and Belgians, Greeks and Jews. During World War II and the two following decades, it attracted whites from the Kentucky and Tennessee mountains and blacks from the cotton country of Alabama and Mississippi.
This influx of a polyglot proletariat eventually changed Michigan’s politics. The catalyst was the Great Depression of the 1930s and company managers’ desire to use machines efficiently, treating employees as extensions of machines and with great distrust. That culminated in the 1937 sit-down strikes organized by the new United Auto Workers. Management and labor fought, sometimes literally, for pieces of what both sides feared was a shrinking pie. The UAW won and organized most of the companies after Democratic Gov. Frank Murphy refused to send in troops to break the illegal strikes. In the years that followed, autoworkers became more militant, and more militantly Democratic. Michigan politics became a kind of class warfare, conducted with a bitterness that split families and neighbors. The unions mostly won, because demographics benefited the Democrats: Autoworkers and post-1900 immigrants were larger in number and produced more children than did outstate Yankees or management. After Walter Reuther’s election as UAW president in 1946, voters elected young, liberal G. Mennen Williams as governor in 1948. By 1954, Democrats, closely tied to the UAW, seemed to have become the natural majority in the state.
As growth continued, economic issues turned less bitter. By the early 1960s, class warfare had dissipated; in 1964, Henry Ford II joined Reuther in backing Democrat Lyndon Johnson for president. Republican George Romney, the former American Motors president elected governor in 1962, and his successor, William Milliken, accepted the social welfare policies endorsed by the UAW leadership and the Democrats. The state government was one of the nation’s most vigorous, and not just for the poor and the unemployed. It supported one of the nation’s most distinguished and extensive higher-education systems, built state parks and recreation areas, and pioneered efforts to end racial discrimination.
Michigan grew faster than the nation as a whole from 1910 to 1970, and successive censuses and reapportionments increased its House delegation from 12 to 19. But in the four decades from 1970 to 2010, Michigan grew less than one-quarter as fast as the nation, and its House delegation fell back to 14 in 2012, with a decline of one more seat projected after 2022. Since 2010, the state’s population has grown by only 1.2 percent. A key turning point may have been the changes in the domestic auto industry. After the UAW’s strike against General Motors in 1970, the union won its central demand: “30 and out,” retirement after 30 years on the assembly line. That, in turn, led to demands for costlier retiree health benefits on top of those negotiated for active workers. The assumption was that the Big Three–General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler–would continue to dominate the U.S. auto market as they had for decades and would be able to afford top-shelf benefits. The reality turned out to be different. Foreign competitors began producing better and cheaper cars that were more responsive to changes in gas prices and consumer preferences, first in Europe and Japan and then in nonunion plants in the United States. Auto sales plummeted during the oil shock and recession of 1979-82, and Chrysler was saved from bankruptcy by a federal bailout, while GM and Ford foundered.
The auto industry became more high-tech, with fewer unionized workers and higher skill requirements. Just-in-time production methods encouraged subcontractors to stay in Michigan near big assembly plants, and the state boasted the nation’s highest per capita concentration of engineers. Grand Rapids, Traverse City, and the northern and western Detroit suburbs fared well. The great exception was the city of Detroit, whose population fell from 1.8 million in 1950 to 713,000 in 2010. Starting with the 1967 rioting, crime rates in Detroit remained intolerably high for 25 years, and much of the city simply vanished–houses were abandoned or burned down, commercial frontage had nearly 100 percent vacancy rates, and the downtown was a beleaguered fortress surrounded by vacant square miles. Detroit’s crumbling architecture helped give birth to a subgenre of photography called “ruin porn.” Detroit began rebounding in the 1990s. Crime and welfare rolls were down, new sports stadiums and even some new housing were built downtown, and old theaters were refurbished. But the decade that began in 2000 halted Michigan’s economic progress. The Big Three, desperate to generate cash to pay huge costs for workers’ and retirees’ benefits, squeezed their subcontractors into bankruptcy, and GM and Chrysler followed in 2009; Ford managed to stay afloat only by mortgaging almost all its assets in 2007. Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat elected in 2002 and 2006, encouraged redevelopment, arranged for tax breaks for new facilities for the automakers and provided tax breaks to filmmakers.
While Detroit and Flint remained two of the nation’s most impoverished cities–the latter afflicted with a manmade water-contamination problem–Michigan did recover along with the rest of the nation. The Big Three resumed making profits, and GM and Chrysler began buying back government-owned stock. Detroit spent several years in the biggest municipal bankruptcy in the history of North America, but in April 2018–following a “grand bargain” with the state’s GOP leadership and several years of budget surpluses — the final financial restrictions were lifted, leaving the city entirely free of such oversight for the first time since the 1970s. In 2017, the Detroit area welcomed its first new vehicle assembly plant in a quarter century, to build off-road vehicles for the Indian company Mahindra Group; this followed local automotive-sector investments by other Indian and Chinese companies. Western Michigan, meanwhile, has been experiencing a quiet prosperity, with Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and Muskegon increasing their economic output past pre-recession levels, thanks to a more diversified manufacturing base and lower wages.
Still, the scars on the manufacturing industry were lasting: Although the state’s manufacturing workforce rose by 44 percent between the depths of the recession and late 2018, it still ended up at only 70 percent of the level it was in 2000, due in part to robotics. Other worries on the horizon include Trump administration tariffs, which raised the price of steel, and innovations such as hybrid cars and autonomous vehicles, which Michigan’s automotive sector has been slow to embrace.
Michigan’s population would be smaller without a steady influx of immigrants; the foreign-born now constitute nearly 7 percent of the population, more than half of whom are citizens eligible to vote. Michigan leads the nation in residents with Arab ancestry, thanks to a nearly continuous influx since the late 1800s. Arabs now account for an estimated 2 percent of Michigan’s population, centered on Dearborn and other neighborhoods in the Detroit metro area; the Lebanese, Iraqi, Palestinian and Yemeni communities are well-established. In 2018, Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian, was elected to a Detroit-based House seat. Michigan has historically ranked high nationally in refugee resettlements, although the number plunged after Trump became president, mirroring the trend in other states.
Politically, Michigan was heavily Republican from the 1850s through the 1920s, then developed a partisan equipoise during the 1930s and has mostly maintained it since. A typical result in the class-warfare era was John F. Kennedy’s 51%-49% victory in 1960–Kennedy carried metro Detroit, 62%-38%, while Richard Nixon carried outstate Michigan, 60%-39%. The Grand Rapids area, with its large Dutch-American population and many Christian conservatives, is usually the most Republican part of the state, though the city of Grand Rapids is more liberal; the area is home to the DeVos family, which founded the multi-level marketing behemoth Amway, became major Republican donors and promoted conservative policies, notably school choice, the signature issue of Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos. Industrial Flint, Saginaw and the Bay City corridor, with their blue-collar heritage and recent economic struggles, have generally voted heavily Democratic, as have the more highly educated areas around Lansing, the state capital, and Ann Arbor, home of the University of Michigan. The Upper Peninsula, historically Democratic, followed the patterns of rural America, turning increasingly red.
In the relatively prosperous 1990s, Michigan leaned toward Republicans in statewide contests; in the tougher 2000s, the state moved toward the Democrats. In 2010 and 2014, Republican businessman Rick Snyder won the governorship as a self-styled “one tough nerd.” Just four years after Obama won the state by nine points, Trump won by less than 11,000 votes out of the almost 4.8 million cast. Gary Johnson and Jill Stein each won more votes than the difference between Trump and Clinton–173,000 for Johnson and almost 51,000 for Stein. The most crucial shift was in Macomb County, the ancestral home of “Reagan Democrats,” which Obama had won by four points but which Trump won by 11; Trump’s margin of victory in Macomb was north of 48,000 votes.
Then, in 2018, the state that sealed Trump’s victory snapped back. Democrat Gretchen Whitmer won the gubernatorial race by nine percentage points, winning roughly twice as many counties as Clinton had. Whitmer built on Clinton’s vote share in traditionally Democratic counties, while also flipping Kent County (Grand Rapids), Eaton County (suburban Lansing), Bay County (Bay City), Saginaw County (Saginaw) and, perhaps most importantly, Macomb, by three points. Whitmer nearly matched Clinton’s statewide vote total, while her Republican opponent, outgoing Attorney General Bill Schuette, underperformed Trump by 420,000. The Democrats swept the key statewide offices and seized two congressional seats, though the party’s gains in the state House and Senate weren’t enough to flip the heavily gerrymandered legislature–a result that might be affected by the easy passage of a redistricting reform ballot measure.”
This year’s Almanac contains the same sort of analysis for the other 49 states and all their governors, freshmen or otherwise. It also offers in-depth profiles of every governor, Senator, and House member; vital statistics on Congress data tables; campaign finance data for all Senators and House members; analysis of voter turnout in each state and Congressional races in the 2018 elections; lists of statewide elected officials in each state; and updated voter registration data.
TO PREORDER THE ALMANAC, VISIT WWW.ALMANACOFAMERICANPOLITICS.COM
Brooks Patterson, longtime Oakland County executive, dies at 80
Lewis Brooks Patterson, a polarizing figure who dominated Oakland County politics and government in a career that spanned nearly half a century, died Saturday after battling pancreatic cancer for several months. The long-time Oakland County executive was 80.
Patterson, in his seventh term leading the county, passed away at 5:30 a.m. at his Independence Township home surrounded by family and friends.
Poisson will take the oath of office to serve as county executive until either the Oakland County Board of Commissioners appoints a successor within 30 days or a special election is held.
Mary Warner, Patterson’s daughter, released the following statement on behalf of the family:
“Our dad was a courageous fighter all his life and he fought right up until the end,” Warner said. “Our family is grieving over the unimaginable loss of our father, grandfather, hero, and friend. Many will remember him for his impact on Michigan and generosity toward Oakland County. We’ll remember him for his love and generosity toward his family and friends.”
In an emotional press conference in March surrounded by family and supporters inside a county building that bears his name, Patterson, a Republican, announced he was fighting Stage 4 pancreatic cancer but planned to continue his duties as county executive while undergoing treatment from the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute.
At the time, he also announced he would not seek re-election when his current term — his seventh — ended in 2020. His death marks the end of an era, especially for county employees, some of whom worked with Patterson for decades.
In his final months, Patterson frequently spent several days each week in the office attending staff meetings and conducting business, sidelined only briefly by his chemotherapy treatments.
Throughout his career, the colorful, often wisecracking Patterson was the kind of elected official who could light up any room with his mere presence or fire up his critics with an offhand remark.
People seemed to either love or hate Patterson, who never backed down from a challenge, personal or otherwise.
He rose to prominence in the early 1970s while representing the National Action Group, which fought court-ordered busing aimed at desegregating Pontiac schools
Patterson survived an early firing as an assistant prosecutor and came back to defeat his former boss for the top job in 1972.
County voters repeatedly returned him to office. He served an unprecedented four terms as prosecutor and an unmatched seven terms as county executive starting in 1992, winning with some of the largest margins in Oakland County history.
Yet outside of Oakland County, Patterson could never gain enough traction with voters. Bids for higher office — Senate, state attorney general and governor — fell short.
Bill Ballenger, a former state lawmaker and long-time political pundit, said regardless of view, Patterson has rightfully earned a place in Michigan political history.
“For a half-century, Brooks Patterson has been the most prominent person in Michigan politics without holding statewide office, with the possible exception of (former Detroit mayor) Coleman Young,” said Ballenger, who puts out the digital website The Ballenger Report.
Patterson admired and kept a photograph of Abraham Lincoln in his office, was fond of Ronald Reagan and was on a first-name basis with Presidents Bush 41 and 43. Patterson even stayed at the Bush family home in Maine.
He was generally viewed warily by Detroiters because of his unabashed criticism of Young and frequent complaints about how his county was bled of tax dollars that subsidized city institutions such as Cobo Center and the Detroit Institute of Arts.
He opposed a regional transportation system because several Oakland County communities had opted out and because he didn’t view it as fair to support a program unpopular with his own constituents.
He drew national attention — and criticism — with comments he made in an interview published in the New Yorker in January 2014. Among them: Suggesting that the way to solve Detroit’s financial problems was to turn the city “into an Indian reservation.”
Patterson himself admitted his wit sometimes got the better of him, apologizing in August 2018 for telling reporters that he would “rather join the Klan” than work with a Detroit business group.
In May 2013, he compared fellow Republican Jase Bolger, then the speaker of the Michigan House, to Adolf Hitler, and to emphasize his point, pulled out a pocket comb and placed it under his nose like a mustache and raised his hand in the Nazi dictator’s signature salute. He later apologized to members of the Jewish community he might have offended — but not to Bolger.
“Sometimes when I’m passionate about a topic, I choose sharp words and purposely engage in hyperbole to get my point across,” Patterson admitted, referring to his “Klan” jibe. “Today, the words I chose offended a lot of people. I apologize for the poor choice of words.”
Despite his penchant for stirring outrage, Patterson mellowed somewhat in the later years of his career, Ballenger said.
“He came a long way from an anti-busing spokesman in the ’70s and maverick, renegade, hard-nosed prosecutor who was to the right of the state Republican party,” he said. “He became more moderate … and earned credit as an extremely strong county executive who defined that office.”
Patterson coped with health problems even before his cancer diagnosis.
He was seriously injured in a car crash Aug. 10, 2012, in Auburn Hills, when a vehicle driven by a Royal Oak man turned in front of Patterson’s car. The county executive’s driver, James Cram, was paralyzed and Patterson was hospitalized for several weeks with multiple broken bones and injuries.
Cram died in March in a hospital from injuries related to the crash.
Ballenger said Patterson’s forays for statewide elected office were “a victim of bad timing and bad luck.” He lost the GOP nomination for Senate in 1978 to incumbent Robert Griffin, who had initially said he wouldn’t see re-election.
“Several people ran for the seat but then dropped out after Griffin changed his mind and said he’d run again — except Patterson, who got smoked,” Ballenger said.
Patterson challenged and lost to longtime attorney general Frank Kelley, a well-known figure across Michigan. In a GOP primary for governor in 1982, Patterson was a close also-ran behind James Brickley and winner Richard Headlee, who lost in the general election to Democrat James Blanchard.
Ballenger said as county executive, Patterson was instrumental in transforming Oakland County with a 21st century vision and no-nonsense leadership. Patterson frequently said his legacy was to help make the county one of the best places to live, work, play and raise a family.
“His daughter described Oakland County as his ‘favorite child’,” said Bill Mullan, Patterson’s public information director for the past decade. “Around the office, we joked that we always knew when he was on vacation because we would hear from him several times a day with ideas about something he wanted looked into. Not unusual to receive an email from him at 5 a.m.
“He breathed Oakland County 24/7.”
Attention to detail paid off. Under Patterson’s watch, Oakland County weathered a recession in the early 1980s and reached full employment — under 5% joblessness. He presided over an $893 million annual budget and a county workforce of nearly 4,300 full and part-time benefit eligible employees.
The success is largely because of his successful job growth and retention strategies in the knowledge-based economy which included a forward-thinking Emerging Sectors program. He often boasted of the county being Michigan’s “economic engine” and home to more than 1,000 global companies, with several in the Fortune 500. His innovative programs, including Emerging Sectors, Medical Mainstreet and Tech 248, attracted more than $5.2 billion in private investment creating or retaining over 90,000 jobs.
The county has held an AAA bond rating since 1998, which Patterson described as a model for others.
The fiscal success has been largely credited to Patterson’s self-described “thoughtful management versus crisis management” approach to governing along with his three-year budget with a five-year outlook.
It resulted in Oakland County being ranked among the most digitally advanced counties in America by the Center for Digital Government for the past 13 years because Patterson embraced technology to improve customer service, work more efficiently, and collaborate with other governments.
Patterson also had a habit — he would be the first to admit — of surrounding himself with talented appointees with expertise and vision to move the county forward.
Vanderveen, the county director of central services, recalled his first staff meeting held by Patterson, who called all of his directors in and presented each with a Mont Blanc fountain pen.
“I thought ‘Hey this is pretty good,’” Vanderveen said. “Then he handed us all undated resignation letters to sign in the event he ever needed them. Fortunately, he never implemented mine. And I got to keep the pen.”
Patterson was generous to his staff, Patterson’s communication officer Bill Mullan recalled. Every year he held a Christmas party at some secret location and had department directors picked up by a bus and taken to a feast, where he told them all how much he loved them and appreciated their efforts.
“His view was government’s job was to develop and provide good services, to promote business and a good quality of life,” said Mullan.
Growing up in Detroit
Patterson’s own beginnings were humble. Born in Indiana in 1939, he moved to and grew up in the Rosedale Park neighborhood on Detroit ‘s west side. He attended St. Scholastica School and University of Detroit High School.
He obtained an undergraduate degree in English from the University of Detroit. He taught at Catholic Central High School in the city, obtained a law degree from the University of Detroit, and served in the U.S. Army from 1962 to 1964.
After law school, Patterson briefly worked in private practice before joining the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office as an assistant prosecutor. His boss, Prosecutor Tom Plunkett, a Democrat, fired the up-and-rising Patterson in 1971 because Patterson disagreed with his position favoring plea bargains. Patterson ran against Plunkett in 1972 and defeated him.
Ballenger described Patterson as a “quipster and toastmaster” whose comments could also be self-deprecating.
“He was not above poking fun at himself,” Ballenger said.
Mullan agreed, recalling how Patterson would reflect on one of his early out-state political visits in the northern Lower Peninsula, where a marque at the motel he was to stay at proclaimed: “Welcome L. Brooks Peterson.”
“As Brooks told it, he turned to someone in the car with him and said, ‘I think we have some work to do up here.’”
A lightning rod
But Patterson was far from an unknown quality, even 47 years ago.
Before earning a reputation as the county’s tough “no deal” prosecutor, Patterson was put in the national spotlight as the attorney for Pontiac resident Irene McCabe and her organization, National Action Group, which opposed a federal judge’s 1972 order for cross-district busing in the tri-county area.
Patterson sued on behalf of NAG and ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed with Patterson’s legal position, declaring the lower court’s order for forced busing unconstitutional.
Ballenger said Patterson’s attitudes and politics have been mischaracterized by some critics.
“He was not an obstructionist or racist as some people in Wayne County or Detroit were led to believe,” Ballenger said. “He clearly put Oakland County first but he actually had a good relationship with Coleman Young and they could talk with each other. … Young was obviously a very strong advocate for his city, so it’s natural their viewpoints would be far apart.
“Brooks was never a progressive regionalist, and his off-the-cuff remarks, like those that appeared in the New Yorker article, were really nothing he hadn’t been saying for 40 years. They didn’t support accusations he acted as a racist.”
Patterson got along so well with one Wayne County executive, the late Edward McNamara, also a Democrat, that the two appeared together in a local TV show where they good-naturedly ribbed each other on the air.
“Brooks is one of the bravest guys I know,” said Royal Oak resident Jean Chamberlain, who had worked with Patterson since he became county executive as his South Oakland County representative.
“He has had some personal and health battles over the years and he came back fighting after every one of them — including chemo during his cancer,” said Chamberlain.
Patterson outlived Plunkett, Young and McNamara, among others.
Chamberlain said Patterson’s legacy will outlive “anyone I can think of — county executive or otherwise.”
“He is a very creative guy and almost every program started was his idea,” she said. “He would provide the resources to start them and step aside and not micro-manage them. He’s made this county what it is.”
Innovative programs and charities
Patterson’s footprint in Oakland County politics is extensive and in contrast to being conservative and tight-fisted, he championed and initiated several innovative government and social programs.
Among them: an Employee Suggestion Program, which has generated more than $5 million in taxpayer savings since 1993 and a Casual Day Program — in which employees pay to wear jeans and T-shirts to work — that has distributed more than $850,000 to local charities.
In 1998, Patterson founded Arts, Beats, and Eats, a four-day Labor Day weekend family-friendly event in Royal Oak that has raised more than $4.5 million for local charities and is ranked as one of the top art fairs in America. In the 1980s, he established The Rainbow Connection, which has granted more than 3,500 wishes to terminally ill children
Patterson’s administration has earned more than 410 awards and honors.
His son Brooks “Brooksie” Stuart Patterson died in a snowmobile accident in 2007, prompting Patterson to create a “Brooksie Way” half marathon and 5K races that annually attract about 5,000 runners of all ages to a course along Oakland University in Rochester Hills.
Proceeds from the race fund mini grants awarded to Oakland County groups that promote healthy, active lifestyles. More than 125 organizations have received $260,000 in mini grants.
“I have always admired Brooks for his dedication and commitment to the residents of Oakland County and his grand vision of what he would like to accomplish on their behalf,” said Deb Kiertzner-Flynn, race director for the Brooksie Way since 2008.
“The Brooksie Way is a prime example of far-reaching results of one such vision,” she said. “Brooks envisioned a world class running event, a quality of life activity families could enjoy together, and a venue to showcase the beauty of the Oakland County river trail system. With ‘The Brooksie,’ he achieved it all.”
Patterson is survived by his son Dr. Dayne (Heather) Rogers of Davisburg; daughters Mary (Gary) Warner of Clarkston and Shawn Sutherland of Waterford, daughter-in-law Jessie (Charlie) Damavoletes of Waterford; former wife Kathy (Bruce) Patterson of Clarkston; 11 grandchildren, and several nieces and nephews.
Patterson had three close relatives — a twin brother Stephen; sister Harriett Hayden; and nephew Timothy Hayden — who all died of cancer.
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