Anyone who thought after the 2018 November general election that we would get a reprieve from the incessant talk and news coverage of politics and politicians should think again.
As of this writing there have been no less than four formal announcements from Democrats on the national level who say they will be seeking the nod to be the party standard bearer in 2020 for the office of president. And by some counts, there could be as many as 20 Democrats running by the end of this year.
Then there is the never-ending churn by the special interest groups – supported by what seems to be endless dark money – who have already started their tiresome attacks on some of the newly elected members of Congress from Oakland County.
And behind the scene we have the political parlor games where those who inhabit political circles have already started to speculate as to who may be running for county and state offices here in Michigan. As you will see in our Oakland Confidential column inside this issue, pols are already staking out their territory for possible electoral runs next year, no doubt in hopes of discouraging others from getting in the game, thereby sapping resources of people and money in primary contests during 2020.
The big question in Southeast Michigan circles seems to be whether L. Brooks Patterson will seek another four-year term of office when his current term ends. Until recently, it was expected that he would not be running for another term, based on his age (80) and his physical condition since a severe car accident six years ago, along with his own personal comments.
But Patterson basically left the door open to another run for the county executive office in Oakland County when he told one of the two Detroit daily newspapers that their speculation about him resigning office before the end of 2018 was just that – speculation. Their piece was based on a theory that had been circulating since last November – that with a new board of commissioners – dominated by Democrats – taking over in January 2019, Patterson could resign and the GOP controlled board could appoint a Republican replacement to keep that office from going the way of the posts of county treasurer, clerk, prosecutor and water resources commissioner, which are now held by Democrats.
There are a few names of Republicans being kicked around as possible candidates to take Patterson's place on the GOP side of the ballot, including Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard, but retaining the executive's post in the Republican column will take some work in 2020 – even if Patterson himself, who spent the 2012 election in a coma, decides to go for another term.
I am not buying Patterson's recent characterization of the changing political landscape in Oakland when he told one of the Detroit daily newspapers that people were moving from Detroit into Oakland County and bringing their Democrat voting habits with them. Although that may be a contributing factor, to assume that is the main reason for the change in the board of commissioners in the 2018 election or the earlier loss of the four other full-time spots at the county complex ignores a couple of larger issues that will play a major role in the 2020 contests.
First, there is the backlash to President Trump – you know, the 2016 candidate that was billed as someone who would become more presidential once he took office. Right. Instead we have been given a national leader that has left the majority of citizens with a nervous anticipation as what he will do next, which does not bode well should Trump seek another term and it has only helped fuel the shift in voting patterns in Oakland County.
Add to that the energized younger generation of voters and established Independents and Democrats who were looking for change in 2018 and most likely will show up in equally strong numbers to cast ballots next year. Those who have backed Trump – like Patterson – will pay a price next year.
Patterson, who in past elections has seemed invincible, will have his work cut out for him, thanks to both Trump and the fact that Patterson's name may not carry as much weight with younger voters.
As I said in past columns, I have been a strong supporter of Patterson, with a few exceptions on some issues, like his support of the death penalty, raiding a movie house showing “Last Tango In Paris’”or his opposition to the Pontiac school bussing – the issue on which he originally built his name. I will give him credit that he has assembled a strong team at the county, which remains the reason we enjoy a solidly managed county, in good and challenging times. It goes without saying that he has done the county well with his development of such programs as Automation Alley, making Oakland the center of the medical industry, just to name a couple of his efforts that have bolstered the county now and for the future.
However, there are other issues facing the county executive should he seek another term.
I think the majority of voters are looking for an innovative, proactive community leader when they go to the polls next year. They are not buying into the anti-immigrant rant coming out of Trump and his GOP supporters in Oakland. They want someone who cares about the environment and someone who is willing to lead wherever possible on a local basis to offset the damaging effects from the current policies in Washington DC. Voters want a leader willing to keep working at a mass transit solution for southeast Michigan. And they want a leader that is willing to mix it up with state and national politicians when proposed public policy does not meet with local expectations, yet has the ability to contribute to a cooperative effort on regional issues.
They want an elected leader for the county who will reflects their values – equality, diversity, inclusiveness – and one who projects a positive image for Oakland County.
In Patterson's case, there is a growing perception – not always supported by reality – that he is not capable of meeting the demands of today's voters. So he, or any other candidate for that matter, will have to work at convincing voters that he/she can meet the expectation of an energized and demanding voting population.