Faith, 'principled' conservatism drive GOP governor hopeful Colbeck

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Grand Rapids — Less than a year after attending his first tea party rally in 2009, Patrick Colbeck began liquidating his retirement savings to run for state Senate.

He sold his Star Trek uniform. He auctioned off his pieces of the Berlin Wall. He wore out two pairs of shoes traveling door to door.

And he won.

The Canton Township Republican beat former state Rep. Deborah Whyman and two other primary candidates as well as former Democrat state Rep. Kathleen Law in the general election. In the process, he became the first elected senator in about three decades to advance straight to the Senate without first serving in the House.

It was a matter of divine providence, Colbeck contends, and he hopes for a repeat in his run for governor.

“We’ve got the same sort of energy behind our campaign,” Colbeck said. “…I think we’ve got an extremely good chance.”

Sen. Pat Colbeck campaigns in Grand Rapids on the campus of Cornerstone University on Monday, May 21, 2018.

The term-limited senator is running on a platform that touts his Christian faith, conservative "principled solutions" and record in the Senate. 

Considered the most conservative of the candidates, the former aerospace engineer faces an uphill battle against frontrunners Attorney General Bill Schuette and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley in the Aug. 7 primary. The other GOP candidate is Saginaw obstetrician Jim Hines.

Colbeck's upbeat, determined demeanor and his consistent tea party message over the past eight years could win him more primary votes than expected, said Bill Ballenger, founder of the Ballenger Report and a former GOP lawmaker. But Ballenger doubts Colbeck will land on the November ballot.

"Nobody could accuse of him of becoming part of the swamp," Ballenger said. "He’s said the same things continuously since when he first ran."

Colbeck, 52, has strongly supported President Donald Trump, right-to-work legislation and giving parents the choice to vaccinate their children. He has pushed “Choose Life” fundraising license plates, but Gov. Rick Snyder last year vetoed the legislation.

Colbeck opposed pension taxes, the Medicaid expansion, minimum wage increases and gasoline tax hikes to fund road repairs — at times alienating his own party.

He was the subject of a failed recall petition months after taking office and claimed his phone was tapped during the right-to-work debate. Colbeck was removed from all committees by Senate GOP leaders after announcing his gubernatorial campaign and, more recently, made waves with unsubstantiated claims that a Democratic opponent has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.

From engineer to maverick

Before joining the Senate, Colbeck was an aerospace engineer whose work included a five-year stint at The Boeing Co. and design work on the International Space Station. In 2005, he founded a technology consulting firm called Tek Made Easy. 

He graduated from Detroit Catholic Central High School in 1983 and later attended the University of Michigan, where he earned bachelor's and master's degrees in aerospace engineering. He and his wife, Angie, have been married for 22 years.

Colbeck prides himself on his “grassroots” campaign consisting of volunteers who follow him largely for his faith-based leadership and principles.

Gina Johnsen started on Colbeck’s campaign as a prayer team leader and eventually became coordinator for the campaign’s roughly 2,400 volunteers. Johnsen, who also is director for the Michigan Capitol House of Prayer, said Colbeck’s incorporation of faith into politics is authentic and proven.

“He has a track record that shows he has integrity,” said Johnsen, of Lansing.

But Colbeck also has challenges, specifically name recognition.

Whereas Calley and Schuette have established statewide reputations, Colbeck said his campaign must work “twice as hard” to get the same attention.

He also lacks the legislative support of Schuette, who has been endorsed by 47 state lawmakers, including 13 senators. Former state Reps. Tom Hooker and Dave Agema have endorsed Colbeck, but Rep. Steve Johnson, R-Wayland, is the only current legislator backing him. 

Colbeck's self-directed mission to “drain the swamp” has pitted him against elected officials on both sides of the aisle, including Republicans such as Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof and Snyder.

A former colleague is critical of the Canton senator.

Colbeck has inflated his role in the 2012 passage of right-to-work legislation, said former Michigan Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville. The freshman lawmaker was one of 20 senators who voted for the measure, so was about 5 percent of the solution, Richardville said.

Colbeck alienated colleagues by telling them how to get things done in the Senate even though he had little experience doing so himself, the Monroe Republican said.

“He had zero to do with negotiations to get it done,” Richardville recalled about the right-to-work legislation. “He was not in the room. He was not in the conversation. If anything, he was more of a hindrance than a help.”

Colbeck said Richardville's comments are incorrect and evidence of the rampant politics among Senate leadership. He says the fact that he received the Senator Paul Fannin Statesman of the Year Award for his efforts in passing right-to-work legislation is proof of his involvement. 

Polarizing politics

The Michigan GOP recently distanced itself from Colbeck after he alleged that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed of Shelby Township had ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. The party said it was not interested in “peddling conspiracy theories.” Fox News host Sean Hannity also pulled his support for Colbeck after the allegations surfaced in a Buzzfeed article.

Colbeck stood by his comments and his stances in the Senate that, at times, have cost him political capital. He said he's always paired opposition to legislation with a proposed alternative solution.

His refusal to bend to political pressure and his willingness to detail a vision for the state differ from what other candidates offer, he said.

“They’re going to be relying upon people who are going to shape their direction, which is kind of where the term ‘swamp’ comes from,” Colbeck said. “They’re listening to a lot of voices other than the people that actually put them in office.”

Colbeck wants to pursue free-market health care, higher-quality roads and job growth. But his primary focus as governor would be a gradual repeal of the state’s 4.25 percent personal income tax — a goal he believes goes hand-in-hand with improvements in other areas. 

Repealing the income tax would force administrators and legislators to consider efficiencies in health care, roads and job-friendly regulations, he said. As those efficiencies are realized, reliance on income tax revenue would decrease and the tax rate would be ratcheted down accordingly, Colbeck said.

The road plan would emphasize higher-quality repairs over cheap, temporary fixes, he said. State transportation employees and contractors would be required to meet clear performance objectives to ensure better quality, Colbeck said.

The candidate’s overt Christianity and a disillusionment with the Republican Party prompted Benj Spencer to support him. Even though Colbeck’s name isn’t widely known, he seems to be more visible at the events and gatherings Spencer attends.

“I don’t see the others in person,” said Spencer, of Muskegon.  

Bob Cushman has known Colbeck since 2012 and has been driving him to campaign stops across the state for several months. Last month, the 68-year-old Northville resident and former corporate pilot for General Motors Co. drove Colbeck in a downpour from Canton Township to East Tawas to Grand Rapids for an evening event at the Grand Rapids Theological Seminary at Cornerstone University.

Colbeck’s the “real deal,” “grassroots” candidate, Cushman said, and most agree when they get to know him. “He is exactly what we need to drain the swamp in Lansing,” he said.

From Cruz to Trump

Colbeck started the 2016 presidential campaign as state chairman for Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz's campaign, but switched allegiances to Trump after the primaries. He even adopted part of the president’s motto for his recent book, “Wrestling Gators: An Insiders’ Guide to Draining the Swamp.”

No stranger to controversy, Colbeck’s event at Cornerstone in May featured historian David Barton, a Christian political activist in Texas who founded Wallbuilders. The organization describes itself as a pro-family group that “presents America’s forgotten history and heroes, with an emphasis on our moral, religious and constitutional heritage.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center called Barton a “prolific propagandist” who insists the Founding Fathers never intended for a separation of church and state.

Colbeck said he credits Barton with inspiring him to get into politics. He and his wife Angie discovered Barton when, disgusted with explicit cable programs, they subscribed to internet-based Sky Angel Faith and Family Television and started watching Barton's programs. 

Colbeck attends annual legislative conferences sponsored by WallBuilders and received Barton’s endorsement for governor.

“He highlights things that people want to bury,” Colbeck said. “That’s kind of the same problem that I’ve got.”

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Staff Writer Jonathan Oosting contributed.

About Patrick Colbeck

Age: 52

Hometown: Canton Township

Family: Wife Angie

Professional: Aerospace engineer who worked on systems used for the International Space Station. Created web services company called Tek Made Easy. 

Political: Two terms as state senator