Politics & Prejudices: Weirdest county in the state

Nov 23, 2016 at 1:00 am

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it ­— good and hard.

H.L. Mencken, 1916

No doubt about it — the acid-tongued old Sage of Baltimore succinctly analyzed both Donald Trump's victory and what's likely to come next, a century ago.

Yes, it will be morbidly amusing to watch what happens to all those unhappy white voters who decided to go into a voting booth and throw a bomb into our system.

Hint: It won't involve being hired en masse for high-paying factory jobs returning from Mexico. The shaft they are about to receive isn't a camshaft. But there will be plenty of time to chronicle their miseries and ours.

Today, however, I want to take a trip to the politically weirdest county on the planet, or at least our state.

That, of course, would be Macomb. I myself try to enter the county only in the daytime, usually wearing a safari outfit or in the company of the natives.

Don't get me wrong. Macomb County voters aren't all bat-shit crazy; as Donald Trump famously said about the Mexicans, "some, I assume, are good people." But Key-ryst, do they fuck up at the ballot box.

Now I'm not just talking about the two main torpedoes they fired into the hull of our state's future. Yes, it was thanks to Macomb that Donald Trump won Michigan; his unofficial margin there (48,358) was four times his tiny statewide plurality. But even had Hillary Clinton won Michigan by a million votes, she still would have lost the presidency.

More damaging to our futures was Macomb's torpedoing of the Regional Transit Authority's proposal for a system of fast and coordinated buses covering four counties — Wayne, Washtenaw, Oakland and Macomb — that would have made it easy to get to the airport, and finally created a realistic way for people without cars to get to jobs across the metropolitan area.

To be fair, I don't think the RTA — or the business leaders who strongly supported this proposal — did a good job of selling it. Washtenaw overwhelmingly backed the RTA; so did Wayne, though by less than expected.

Oakland County voters said no, by a mere 50.1 percent, thanks to 77-year-old County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, who wants to cover the earth with concrete.

But the RTA was still winning by 54,000 votes when the count reached Macomb. More than 60 percent of the county's voters said no to common sense transportation.

Yet that should have surprised no one. This is a county whose voting patterns are always several bubbles off plumb.

The more local you go, the weirder they are. That wasn't always so. When Detroit started emptying out in the 1950s, most white-collar workers went northwest to Oakland County; blue-collar ones east, to Macomb.

For years, Macomb voted Democratic; it was John F. Kennedy's best suburban county in the nation. But that changed in 1980, when the county became famous for its "Reagan Democrats" who flocked to the GOP in droves.

Macomb voters were subsequently often caricatured as a bunch of white ethnic racists. That isn't exactly fair. Believe it or not, President Barack Obama won Macomb County twice.

But if they are not knee-jerk racists, they are often knee-jerk weird. I first noticed this back in 2000, when longtime Sheriff William Hackel was convicted of raping a woman at a Michigan Sheriff's Association meeting the year before. He was trundled off to prison, whereupon the post was soon filled by ... his son, Mark Hackel, now the county executive.

True, many believe the old sheriff was only guilty of really lousy and boorish judgment (he left the victim's hotel room to have dinner with his wife).

But replacing the convicted racist with his son sounded, well, weird. Not, however, as weird as James Fouts, the current mayor of Warren. For years, Fouts, now a spry 74, was best known for an obsession with Frank Sinatra, and for battling to try and conceal his age.

A Washington Post story said he did this because "he tends to date younger women." That he does, and there was a flurry of excitement a couple of years ago, when a YouTube video surfaced of the mayor having a romantic tryst with his 27-year-old executive assistant, aka secretary, in Chicago.

Soon after that, the woman got a hefty 11 percent raise. Fouts was very indignant at suggestions that the raise had anything to do with her snuggling with him.

But how did the voters react? Decisively. After more than a year to wallow in the scandal, they re-elected Fouts with 85 percent of the vote. Then his commissioners gave him a 14 percent raise, and his adoring subjects changed the law, so he can run for a fourth term next year if he cares to.

Frank Sinatra would have sung "My Way." But even that doesn't compare to what Macomb voters did this year.

How often do you hear of candidates spending millions on a race for ... public works commissioner? How often do you hear of a member of Congress with a completely safe seat giving it up to try to win the right to oversee sewer contracts?

But that's what Candice Miller did. She beat incumbent Anthony Marrocco, in a campaign that made Clinton-Trump look gentlemanly, but we might as well ask why some special interests poured so much money into this race.

The man who really knows Macomb is longtime journalist Chad Selweski, who publishes one of the state's better blogs, Politically Speaking. (politicscentral.org)

"I'm still shaking my head over how some races turned out," he said. Those include electing Larry Rocca treasurer, whose qualifications include defaulting on a loan and being repeatedly delinquent on his property taxes.

Then there's Karen Spranger, who normally just refuses to pay her taxes at all, Selweski said. She lives in a house that doesn't have running water and which is in foreclosure.

Macomb voters elected her county clerk.

There's also Steve Marino, the lobbyist who said he loved corporations that take advantage of child labor, and Dino Bucci, the township trustee who is being sued for allegedly demanding kickbacks from a developer. They both won too.

But support mass transit? Not on your life. "It's Macomb County politics. It's a mystery," Selweski said.

I hope you've enjoyed our trip to Macombland. It isn't the prettiest place to visit. And I really don't want to live there.

Impotence of the mainstream media

Whatever your politics, there is no question that the newspapers of this nation were united in opposition to Donald Trump as they have never been against any other major party candidate.

Only two of the nation's top 100 papers backed him — one in Jacksonville, Florida, and the other, the paper owned by Trump's casino buddy, Sheldon Adelson, in Las Vegas.

Hillary Clinton was endorsed by papers that hadn't endorsed a Democrat in a hundred years. More papers endorsed the clueless Gary Johnson than Trump.

The New York Times, the national newspaper of our elites, essentially devoted itself to trying to defeat Trump. USA Today, the national paper of the masses, said not to vote for him.

All of which had no effect. None. Curiously, Nevada, the one state whose leading newspaper did endorse Trump, was carried by Hillary Clinton.

There's an old saying that writing an editorial endorsing someone for president is like pissing your pants in blue serge suit: It gives you a nice warm feeling, and nobody notices.

That is, until it gets clammy and uncomfortable.

By now, it certainly has.