Sunday, December 3, 2023
Urban Planning

The Oakland County GOP Is Courting Literal Nazis To Fight Infrastructure Funding

The city of Auburn Hills was supposed to host an event yesterday evening with Stop Taxing Our Property, or STOP, an activist initiative that is fighting the upcoming SMART millage that would expand funding for transit infrastructure in Southeast Michigan. If you recall coverage from February, you might remember that the Mayor joined with a majority on that far-flung suburban municipality’s city council to vote to remove the city from the regional transit authority– a move that contravened a landslide vote in favor of the taxation measure, and that may well have been illegal. But, irrespective of the fate of that arguably ill-advised decision on the part of the council, the Oakland GOP at large has begun enlisting a new ally in the fight against modern infrastructure: white nationalists and Nazi sympathizers! After all, why not?!

The City of Auburn Hills, which has become a flashpoint in the fight over infrastructure investment. The mayor voted with the City Council in February to opt out of SMART, contravening a plurality (75%) of voters who supported the SMART millage, with one councilmember saying that, “I hear you saying that the majority of voters support this, but there are two sides to every story.” Who wouldn’t want to take a scenic stroll around this landscape of stroads and surface parking lots?
Advance Oakland, Inc., and STOP

The STOP event yesterday evening wasn’t sponsored by the city, nor was it listed on the city’s public calendar. It also appears to have been cancelled at the last minute for reasons we’re still trying to figure out. But the organization still appears to be quite active, with what appears to be its parent organization, Advance Oakland, aggressively pushing, well, a whole lot of “no,” and little else.

Transit is a scapegoat at or near the top of their agenda, in line with the GOP’s dog whistles and rallying cries that Transit Will Bring Crime Because Those People Will Come Into Your Neighborhood.

Recharging the Aquifer Underneath Detroit’s Transit Desert

The Novi-based 501(c)(4), chaired by the Mayor Pro Tem of that exurban “city,” also parrots a lot of talking points about why Transit Is Bad And We Should Instead Send Our Money To California Big Tech Companies That Are Losing Money And Everyone Can Have An Uber Ride Any Time They Want. (I’ve written about this specific, utterly insane idea and why it’s, well, utterly insane).  Notably, Advance selectively interprets lines from a DOT report on transit in the age of coronavirus– which they, you know, don’t even think is real to begin with- and use that to justify placing a picture of Oakland County executive Dave Coulter next to a picture of dollars coming out of a faucet (original, folks!). They argue that transit isn’t viable in the age of autonomous cars and rideshare.

Never mind that neither autonomous cars nor rideshare are profitable. Actually, never mind autonomous, that doesn’t even… exist. Wow.

The Strange Bedfellows Acquired In The Fight Against… Functional Transportation?

Advance Oakland also has a podcast, hosted by none other than notorious white supremacist, Big Lie purveyor, and Nazi sympathizer Shane Trejo, on whose fascist machinations the Daily Beast reported extensively last year. As reported by Kelly Weill, Trejo formerly co-hosted a podcast with Identity Evropa. Meanwhile, the Advance podcast page even proudly features the banner likeness of the late L. Brooks Patterson, an ardent segregationist who once likened Detroit to an “Indian reservation” in which “all we have to do is throw in the blankets and corn.” (Speaking of dog whistles! But I guess this was more of an “overtly racist” statement rather than a dog whistle). Patterson’s decades-long reign as County Commissioner is still lauded by advocates of “small government,” even as the executive presided over an untenable expansion of the county’s public infrastructure, which it can’t afford to maintain.

Administratively, Advance is a dynamic duo of Novi Mayor Pro Tem Dave Staudt, who is also running for state representative, and Trejo himself. Staudt, whose campaign has received endorsements from the usual suspects, among them the Associated Builders and Contractors and the NRA, has identified himself as an ardent opponent of infrastructure funding, and Novi is perhaps the most populous exurban enclave that remains a stalwart opponent. It’s perhaps a dynamic trio when you include another name listed on the corporate documents, Dillon Breen. Breen is a media professional whose LinkedIn profile shows him as living in the western Wayne County strip mall suburb of Livonia, though he rocks a header picture of the skyline of the city his entire agenda seems hellbent on undermining.

Up The Chain, As Down The Chain

Further unraveling the ball of yarn a bit, we can see that Trejo isn’t just some fringe activist. He’s a District Chair for the state party. Be it said, that same state party employs Meshawn Maddock, an extremist who gleefully took part in the January 6th insurrection and has landed herself in hot water for comments like calling Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg a “weak little girl,” and, well, the list goes on. Meshawn’s husband Matthew Maddock is a state representative who is also highlighted on Advance Oakland’s website. Trejo has been instrumental in purging even GOP officials who refused to delay or dispute the certification of the 2020 presidential election.

The one thing these folks all seem to have in common is that they’re really, really angry.

Where does this leave Southeast Michigan as far as infrastructure funding? The Governor is certainly not taking any leadership role in advancing it. Unless, you know, “infrastructure funding” involves cars and only cars.

The Party Of “Nazis Are Ok, But Nothing Else Is Ok.”

Perhaps the most shocking thing to me about all of this is, in fact, not that the GOP would bring on a Nazi sympathizer to fight for their causes. We’ve seen plenty of that, ranging from conservative darling Kanye West’s unhinged rants about the Jews to politicians who say, you know, the Holocaust was actually more complicated than the history would have you believe! It’s not just Carl Palladino or Marjorie Taylor Greene. We have dozens of examples.

So, that’s old news to me at this point. (Not that I’ve normalized it– it just isn’t shocking to me anymore).

Rather, what’s perhaps more shocking to me is that there’s not a single iota of actual policy ideas or governance involved in these campaigns, and this should indicate to you how un-serious Let’s take a look at Advance Oakland’s list:

  • No to “CRT” (whatever that even is).
  • No to gun regulation.
  • No to transit funding.
  • No to SMART Millage.
  • No to carceral reform.
  • No to bail reform.
  • No to police reform.
  • No to hate crime legislation.
  • And so on, and so forth.

What are they saying “yes” to? Where are the policy solutions? “The government should pay everyone to take a Lyft or Uber” is not a policy solution.

I grew up in a household with a conservative Republican father and a moderate to left-of-center Democrat mother. Perhaps more than anything else, I remember developing my political viewpoints not based on pollyanna political correctness and handwringing visions of “oh, woe is [whatever cause du jour],” but on real life pragmatism. Should the government do [x] or [y]? Well, it depends!

Epilogue: First They Came For My Infrastructure.

I remember watching as my father became increasingly jaded with a party that was more interested in fighting cultural wars– and literal wars, to the tune of trillions of taxpayer dollars and hundreds of thousands dead- than in governing. In his view– and, I tend to think, most other sensible folks- the Republican party squandered a hitherto unfathomable amount of political capital it amassed after 9/11. The Afghanistan War, which the US arguably lost, even if it would take twenty years. The Second Iraq War, which, well.

But I digress. What would real governance even look like? Welfare reform? Immigration reform? Meaningfully improving the way the government functions to save money? You know, instead of just talking about how you’re going to do it, and then just increasing spending (Trump, G. W. Bush, Reagan)? In the case of Advance Oakland and their preposterous STOP campaign, it might look like proposing real policy solutions. And transportation policy has to go beyond “the government should pay for your Lyft or Uber.”

The GOP has fallen a long way since it was the party of smaller government, more responsible government, and civil liberties. Now, it feels like the best most of them can muster is screaming “freedom” at the top of their lungs, while skipping about arm-in-arm with white supremacists and Nazi sympathizers. This isn’t the way to run a party. And whether you’re opposed to the SMART millage or you’re in favor of it (or whether you don’t live in Southeast Michigan at all), you should certainly not tolerate the way this GOP has normalized Nazism and fascism alongside policy critique and activism.

Indulge me for being even more tongue-in-cheek than normal. As the saying goes, “Mussolini made the trains run on time.” But the Oakland County GOP courting Nazi sympathizers wants to make sure the trains don’t run at all— you know, on top of all of the other bad news that comes along with, well, fascism.

We know that voter turnout is crucial for a number of things in November– paramount among them, protecting women’s reproductive rights (Proposal 3). But also paramount is the need to protect democracy at large. As mentioned, Shane Trejo led a purge of election officials who certified or didn’t dispute the results of the 2020 election. Normalizing the viewpoints of these folks on something as fundamental as infrastructure is just one additional point on which we should not concede an inch of ground, to say nothing of their rejection of democracy. Voting to maintain and modernize our infrastructure isn’t just something that the buses depend on– it’s something that, indeed, democracy itself may well depend on.

A representative of the City of Auburn Hills called us back to tell us that they were not sure why the anti-transit town hall event had been cancelled. Voters in Oakland and Macomb Counties will approve or deny the SMART millage this November. For more information, check out Transportation Riders United.

Nat M. Zorach

Nat M. Zorach, AICP, MBA, is a city planner and energy professional based in Detroit, where he writes about infrastructure, sustainability, tech, and more. A native of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, he attended Grinnell College in Iowa, the Kogod School of Business at American University, the POCACITO transatlantic program, the SISE program at the University of Illinois Chicago, and he is also a StartingBloc Social Innovation Fellow. He enjoys long walks through historic, disinvested Rust Belt neighborhoods at sunset. (Nat's views and opinions are his own and do not represent those of his employer).

Leave a Reply