As he’s done for 18 years since first elected Oakland County Executive, L.Brooks Patterson is heading to the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac conference with 1,000 other leaders to talk about issues and tough times.
He’ll stand out from the pack as he usually does with his direct, unapologetic way of telling you what’s on his mind, typically vented through his GOP prism view of the world.
At 71, he’s one of the more enduring Republican leaders in the state – easily winning re-election during last year’s Democratic landslide.
Patterson’s also a lightning rod on topics like Detroit, race relations and the Democratic president and governor.
The venerable leader and regular panelist on “Michigan Matters” on WWJ-TV CBS Detroit took time out during taping to discuss some things on his mind. True to form, he didn’t hold back.
On Gov. Jennifer Granholm: “I agree with critics who say she will go down as the worst governor in Michigan’s history. I like her personally. She is bright, witty. Initially, we were good political friends. But that changed in 2007 when she raised $1.7 billion in taxes and tried to do the same thing this year.”
On another Democrat, Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano and Ficano’s highly touted Aerotropolis plan which is trying to secure Renaissance Tax Free Zones from the Legislature:
“Until they (Ficano’s team) agree to a ‘no poaching’ clause (as part of the legislation) to mean they can only go after businesses outside of the state and also balance the number of Renaissance Zones (for others in the region), Mike Bishop and the Republican Senate will never let it out (of conference).
Patterson offers more on his Wayne County counterpart:
“Bob goes to the media and says one thing and then talks to us and tells us something else. All he needed to do was talk with us and ask, ‘What can you live with?’ and Aerotropolis would have been done.”
Ficano asked for ten Renaissance Zones and none for Detroit, Oakland or anywhere else, Patterson says. He wants Ficano’s team to back off what he calls “poaching.”
“I’m talking about ‘Turkey’ as my staff calls her (Turkia Mullins, Ficano’s Economic Development point person) who is trying to poach our (Oakland’s) businesses.”
On regional transportation, which comes up year after year at the conference and never seems to get traction, Patterson doubts much will change this time.
“It’s gone from bad to worse. I don’t care what MOSES (Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Enabling Strength) or TRU (Transportation Riders United) supporters say, it isn’t getting done. It isn’t only the cost, but who will pick up that tab that keeps this conversation one that doesn’t get resolved.”
To critics who say Patterson, who handled an explosive anti-busing lawsuit decades ago, is a racist, he begs to differ. He does, however, still have strong views on the forced busing conversation.
“Get over it. This was a social experiment where children were used as pawns. It failed miserably,” he said.
He sees Detroit Mayor Dave Bing as “a breath of fresh air” but adds Bing may be too late to help the city’s dire financial situation.
“And if Detroit goes over the cliff, we lose our AAA (bond) rating and it will cost us (Oakland) millions,” he added.
Of disgraced former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick: “I thought he had the right stuff to (eventually) replace (Sen.) Carl Levin. Kwame was like Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost,’ the classic English work that talks of a man’s disobedience and ultimately being cast from paradise due to his flaws.”
With the swagger of a John Wayne-like character, Patterson’s known for charging ahead on issues that resonate, like getting rid of the state’s Single Business Tax.
But even John Wayne falls from the saddle once in a while.
Of his own public backpeddling recently where he announced he would file suit against the state over the pending smoking ban and hours later changed his mind, Patterson concedes his lawsuit was misunderstood.
“It got distorted. But I corrected it,” he said, adding the flurry of e-mails and calls took him by surprise.
The proposed lawsuit stemmed from not wanting the county to incur costs of policing establishments for smokers. Instead, it was misconstrued as endorsing smoking – something he vehemently opposes.
Patterson hastily called a news conference and before the bright lights announced he was changing his mind.
Speaking of confronting urgent situations, when asked why Oakland shouldn’t do more to help cash starved Detroit given many residents hail from there, Patterson said, “Oakland is the only donor county in the state as we give $1.5 billion (to the state) we don’t get back. And most of it goes to Detroit.”
On what he can point to that the “Big Four” has accomplished, he mentions the regional authority put in place at Cobo Center.
However, things there aren’t settled as talk of an expansion to handle the needs of the North American International Auto Show is again kicking up dust.
Patterson bristles at those who say he isn’t a regional player.
He references Automation Alley which he started 11 years ago and grown to eight counties and the city of Detroit. He also talks of CLEMIS (Courts and Law Enforcement Management Information System), the county’s crime data sharing network that includes other counties and grown into the largest crime data sharing network in the nation.
Talk with Patterson always seems to center on politics.
Going back to Gov. Granholm and her performance: “She did a bad job of managing affairs of the state. She couldn’t help what happened to the auto industry, but she could have done a better job of responding.”
Ironically, businessman Dick DeVos, who was the GOP opponent running against Granholm last time, turned to the quick witted Patterson to portray Granholm, who is lauded for her all-star debating skills. It didn’t help as DeVos lost.
When asked why, Patterson said, “He got ‘Brewerized.’”
Mark Brewer, the Democratic Party State Chair, took DeVos to task on things like Amway’s expansion into China and it struck a chord with voters. Never mind that GM, Chrysler, Ford and countless other firms had done the same as this is a global marketplace.
Touted as an early GOP contender in the current governor’s race, Patterson ultimately decided against running. He has no regrets.
“The next governor will be a liquidator, a consolidator. What I like to do is create initiatives which requires money and there just isn’t any,” he said.
Patterson is supporting Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard, a longtime pal, in the race, saying he has legislative experience which gives him an edge.
But like most political observers, Patterson believes the gubernatorial race is still wide open on both sides.
The diehard Barry Goldwater card carrying GOP member has little good to say about President Barack Obama. When asked who he will support in the 2012 presidential race: “ABO — Anyone But Obama.”
Patterson, who will be 73 when his term ends, plans to run again. He has no successor in mind and no intentions of anointing anyone.
When asked if he has any regrets, he mentions one thing.
After losing his beloved 28-year-old son, Brooksie, in a snowmobile accident three years ago, it is time away from family that haunts him.
“My kids understood and forgave me a long time ago for missing so many dinners,” he said. “It’s something I can’t redo. I have to live with that.”
Carol Cain is senior producer and host of “Michigan Matters” airing 11 a.m. Saturdays on WWJTV CBS Detroit. She moderates the Michigan Chronicle’s “Pancakes and Politics” forums and is a columnist for the Detroit Free Press.