Naming highways for notable Michiganders has traditionally been one of those easy bipartisan votes in the Legislature, akin to members of Congress naming post offices.
On Tuesday, a new bill was introduced that would honor former Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, who died last year of cancer, by putting his name on a section of highway.
But that comes after several high-profile partisan fights last year. Last March, six Republicans voted against memorializing Aretha Franklin, the “Queen of Soul” known for her civil rights work, with a portion of M-10 in Detroit: state Reps. Steven Johnson (R-Wayland), Shane Hernandez (R-Port Huron), Phil Green (R-Millington), John Reilly (R-Oakland Twp.), Luke Meerman (Polktown Twp.) and Matt Maddock (R-Milford).
“Mr. Speaker and members of the House: I believe naming of highways should be reserved for those who have died in service to our state or community and not to celebrities,” said Johnson in explaining his “no” vote on the floor.
That bill was signed into law.
Even more surprisingly, seven Republicans objected in September to naming a stretch of Telegraph Road for former state Rep. Julie Plawecki (D-Dearborn), who died in suddenly in 2016. The Republicans were: Johnson, Maddock, Meerman, Reilly, state Rep. Gary Eisen (St. Clair), Rep. Michele Hoitenga (R-Manton) and Rep. Matt Hall (R-Marshall).
The Senate has yet to take up the legislation.
Honoring late lawmakers is standard practice and has not taken on partisan undertones in past sessions. After state Rep. Pete Pettalia (R-Presque Isle) died in 2016, the Legislature memorialized him with a highway naming. Hoitenga, Johnson and Reilly all voted yes. After the Plawecki highway vote, Hoitenga told the Detroit News, “I know this looks bad,” but said “it had nothing to do with partisan politics whatsoever.”
On the floor, Johnson said, “I respect the service of Rep. Plawecki but I cannot support going down the road of naming highways after politicians.” He said they should only be named for fallen troops or first responders.
Following those controversies, House Transportation Chair Jack O’Malley (R-Lake Ann) in October introduced a bill that could limit the naming of memorial highways to fallen military members, law enforcement officers, first responders and Congressional Medal of Honor awardees. It was co-sponsored by Hall, Johnson, Eisen and state Rep. Jim Lower (R-Greenville).
O’Malley said naming local roads after communities’ “favorite sons or daughters” should be left to local municipalities and the state highway-naming process would only honor individuals who had “died in service to state or community.”
The bill is still in O’Malley’s committee.
On Tuesday, a GOP lawmaker introduced legislation that would name part of the Dixie Highway for Patterson, a leader in GOP politics for decades. HB 5742 is sponsored by state Rep. Andrea Schroeder (R-Independence Twp.), who is a cancer survivor.
The bill is co-sponsored by Maddock, who did not immediately respond for comment about why he supports this measure, but voted against the highway namings for Plawecki and Franklin.
Other co-sponsors of the Patterson bill are: state Reps. Ryan Berman (R-Commerce Twp.), Jim Ellison (D-Royal Oak) and Michael Webber (R-Rochester).