Colbeck says he’s ‘real Republican’ in gov bid

Sarah Rahal, and Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News

Belleville — State Sen. Patrick Colbeck on Saturday declared himself a “real Republican" when he outlined his priorities should he become Michigan’s next governor.

Addressing about 200 supporters at the Yankee Air Museum on the grounds of the Willow Run airport, Colbeck, R-Canton Township, said he believes he was called to serve and listed his priorities as veterans, Michigan roads, and defunding Planned Parenthood.

“What we can expect after I’m elected: First, the government works for us not the other way around. Second, solutions are supposed to be in the best interests for everyone… and third, tax increasing should always be the last option, not the first,” he said.

“I’m here to announce, I do fully intend to run for governor of the great state of Michigan,” said Colbeck, 51.

The ticketed launch party had food stands selling hotdogs, snow cones, and campaign items and apparel sold for $20. Attendees gathered under a large tent escaping scorching heat listening to speakers in support of his campaign including the Rev. Levon Yuille of Joshua's Trail, Bob Dutko of WMUZ 103.5., and automaker and activist Terry Bowman.

Michelle Gregoire, 26, who said she once arrested for trespassing when she passed out pocket-sized copies of the Constitution at Kellogg Community College as a student, supports Colbeck because of his health care views and because he supported her and helped publicize her case in September.

“A representative two districts away, cared more about me than my own representatives did. I support him because he supports me,” said Gregoire, a Battle Creek resident.

Colbeck is a trained aerospace engineer. He has held a series of fundraisers in recent weeks to stockpile “rocket fuel” for the run.

Colbeck has often butted heads on spending and social issues with fellow Republican and Gov. Rick Snyder during the past seven years.

Arguably the most conservative member of the state Senate, Colbeck has sponsored nine bills that have become law and helped develop right-to-work legislation Snyder signed in 2012 to prohibit worker contracts requiring union dues or fees as a condition of employment. He counts among his top accomplishments a law that paved the way for direct primary health care services in Michigan by specifying that medical retainer agreements are not insurance.

But Colbeck is perhaps better known for opposing other high-profile laws backed by Snyder and legislative leaders.

He voted against expanding Medicaid health insurance eligibility under the Affordable Care Act in 2013, against the $195 million Detroit “grand bargain” that helped the city emerge from bankruptcy in 2014, against higher taxes and registration fees to fund road repairs in 2015, and against last year’s $617 million bailout of the Detroit Public Schools.

An outsider candidate when he rode a wave of tea party support to his first Senate election victory in 2010, Colbeck said he has been far more than a “no” vote in the Legislature.

“Every single time I did that, I proposed an alternative,” Colbeck told The Detroit News in an interview ahead of his campaign kick-off.

Colbeck is the highest-profile Republican so far to declare his candidacy for governor, but he’ll likely become an underdog if Attorney General Bill Schuette and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley jump into the race as expected.

He is a legitimate candidate who can run to the right of the competition, but his campaign is still something of “a moonshot,” said Susan Demas, owner and editor of Inside Michigan Politics, echoing his NASA and space theme.

Colbeck, 51, is a graduate of the University of Michigan, where he earned a bachelor’s degree and master’s in aerospace engineering. He worked for Boeing and was a contractor for the U.S. Department of Defense, he said, before starting his own project management consulting firm.

Snyder recently vetoed a bill sponsored by Colbeck that would have created a “Choose Life” license plate to raise money for causes backed by prominent anti-abortion group Right to Life of Michigan. The governor argued the plate would amount to the state endorsing a “political message” that could divide residents.

The day of the veto, Colbeck called it “disgraceful.” Schuette and Calley also said they disagreed with Snyder’s decision.

Colbeck chaired the Senate Appropriations Subcommittees on State Police and Military Affairs in his first term, but Republican leadership did not pick him to chair any committees in his second and final term.