July 22, 2010 at 1:00 am

Bouchard determined conservative

Gubernatorial candidate  Mike Bouchard
Gubernatorial candidate Mike Bouchard: An interview with the Republican candidate for governor

The "unabashed conservative" who wants to be governor had just told a friendly Republican crowd in the basement of the Birmingham library he is willing to be a one-term change agent.

It was a sobering message from Mike Bouchard, the Oakland County sheriff and former state senator, as he described his tough-love prescription for fixing Michigan: Spend less, bolster education and public safety, slash red tape for business growth and cut taxes.

"A lot of people have plans. Every Sunday the Detroit Lions have a plan," he said. The 60 people at the meeting erupted in laughter. Then the mood turned serious. "I don't care if I'm a one-term governor. I don't care if I'm not popular. I want to fix the problems because to me it's about keeping our kids here."

To close the session, his wife Pam told the crowd: "This is one of the most dearest men you will ever meet in your life," adding, "we need someone who is a proven performer and he is that."

Mike Bouchard, 54, an unsuccessful U.S. Senate candidate in 2006, is making another bid for statewide office. Out of the five GOP contenders, he hasn't polled well and hasn't raised as much money as the top contenders. Some quietly say he's perhaps too conservative to be elected and even though he's affable, smart and experienced, he can't win.

He was the first candidate to pick a running mate -- Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land -- and he is crisscrossing the state. Bouchard said he is raising money and will increase his TV ad presence.

L. Brooks Patterson, the Oakland County executive who is backing Bouchard, said the sheriff's experience as a one-time business owner and state senator dovetails with everything he is stressing on the stump: lower taxes, job growth, government accountability and tough decision-making.

But even Patterson acknowledges that the position Bouchard holds "is not the best springboard for a statewide" office.

"People tend to pigeonhole you as law enforcement, a good sheriff," Patterson said. "But to be promoted is a quantum leap in the eyes of the voters." Still, Patterson said he likes Bouchard's chances.

William Rustem, president and CEO of the nonpartisan Public Sector Consultants in Lansing, said Bouchard's candidacy has suffered from low funding and the fact that the he is pegged as an "Oakland County guy."

"He hasn't been able to break out of that Oakland County mold," Rustem said. "And I think that's been the biggest challenge that he's faced."

Rustem said Bouchard has campaigned to appeal to more conservative Michigan voters, but it remains to be seen if that strategy will work.

Bouchard appears in TV ads calling for Michigan to become a right-to-work state, a position that appeals to conservatives.

"His voting record was not that conservative," Rustem said. "I think it was a conscious decision on his part to try to appeal to the most conservative of the Republican Party."

But Bouchard said he thinks he has the message that will resonate with voters and bring jobs to Michigan.

"The job I have I love. The job I'm seeking will not be fun if you do it correctly," Bouchard said. "And that's the reality, and it has to be done. It's kind of like a beautiful barn. Sometimes you've got to go inside and you've got to do some shoveling. It's not fun, but it has to happen."

Not another Granholm

Stroll through his bustling campaign headquarters -- a one-time gas station on Woodward Avenue in Birmingham -- and you see a wooden door with the words "Fix Lansing, Get Michigan Back to Work" that opens to Bouchard's office.

In an interview, Bouchard took aim at Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm -- a leader he said he will be the opposite of.

Knowledge of the legislative process and reaching across the aisle to Democrats, Bouchard said, is how he would be a better governor than Granholm. It's a quality he says that separates him from his rivals.

"The governor has said basically two excuses in her reign: John Engler left me a mess. We're still hearing it eight years later," he said. And she has party control of the House and Democratic votes in the Senate but fails to manage them, he said.

"She doesn't know how, maybe. She doesn't want to take the heat, maybe," he said. "But I will promise you that I will do what's necessary to get things through."

Art Miller Jr., a former Senate Democratic minority leader during the time Bouchard served in Lansing in the 1990s, said Bouchard was skilled and open to working with Democrats when the GOP was in control in the Senate.

"Mike was always very helpful. And he was a gentleman," said Miller, who is backing Democratic gubernatorial candidate Virg Bernero. "He reached across the aisle and he didn't have to do that."

In standard speeches, Bouchard trumps his experience as being the most well-rounded candidate in the GOP field.

Bouchard started his career as a police officer in Beverly Hills, and was elected to that town's village council in 1986. He became its president a short time later.

In 1990, he was elected to the state House and then state Senate, rising through the ranks to president pro-tem.

In 1999, he was appointed Oakland County sheriff, elected a year later and re-elected twice.

He has been praised for not only thinking creatively to save money as sheriff, but also for not making excuses when serious cuts had to be made in recent years. One way he cut costs was to privatize the Oakland County jail's food services contract, which saved $1.6 million, according to county officials.

"They were able to make cuts. They were able to live within their budget. They were able to meet the demands of a decreased revenue base without sacrificing public safety," said State Rep. Chuck Moss, R-Birmingham, an Oakland County commissioner from 2001-06.

Moss, who was a finance committee chairman during the time, said Bouchard "had the clout to be able to come to us one-by-one and say 'C'mon, leave me alone.' But he didn't."

'A solid person'

Bernard Markaity, 82, a self-described independent voter in Sterling Heights, said he likes Bouchard's range of experience.

"He's got a background in all parts of government," said Markaity, after the Birmingham town hall. He said he voted for Granholm four years ago and said he is considering Bouchard. "I find him to be a very solid person," he said.

Bouchard acknowledges U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Holland and Attorney General Mike Cox are ahead in the polls, but he believes the race is tightening. "I'm raising money," Bouchard said. "I'm going to be competitive."

lfleming@detnews.com">lfleming@detnews.com (313) 222-2072

On the issues

Abortion: Opposes
Embryonic stem cell research: Opposes
Detroit River International Crossing: Opposes
Tax on services : Opposes
Affirmative action ban : Supports
Right to work : Supports
Part-time Legislature : Supports
Gas tax increase for roads : Opposes
Arizona-style immigration law for Michigan : Supports

Mike Bouchard stresses tough-love fixes for Michigan: cut spending, cut taxes and slash red tape for businesses. / David Guralnick / The Detroit News