In the escalating debate over reforms to Michigan's no-fault auto insurance, Republican Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson finds himself in the rare position of being on the same team with Michigan Democrats.
Patterson, no stranger to bluntly making a point, used a pocket comb as a mustache Thursday to compare Michigan House Speaker Jase Bolger to World War II Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler after the House Insurance Committee refused to let Patterson submit testimony opposing no-fault auto reforms.
The reforms proposed by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder and backed by Bolger include a $1 million cap on medical payments for catastrophic auto injuries. Currently, there is no cap.
"He's being a bully," Patterson said Friday about Bolger, a Calhoun County Republican, who Patterson referred to as "Herr Bolger" in his continuing criticism.
"One of my guys pointed out to me that when Hitler did take office, take power in Germany, the first thing he did was to round up the sick and the handicapped and send them off to camps, and we never saw them again because he was trying to protect the purity of the Aryan race.
"That's really what we're going to do here," Patterson said. "We're going to round up the really, really seriously injured and ship them off to nursing homes."
Patterson referred to his driver Jim Cram, who was left a quadriplegic from an accident last August in which Patterson was also injured.
"He has two nurses 24 hours a day because he can't do anything," Patterson said. "He's absolutely totally incapacitated so these nurses do everything for him. And you're going to take that away from these people."
Democrats followed up Friday with a news event of their own, continuing their attack on House Bill 4612, which the committee that snubbed Patterson reported out, shifting the political battle to the full 110-member House controlled by Republicans.
Democratic Party Leader Tim Greimel, an Auburn Hills Democrat, and others announced the entire Democratic Party caucus opposes the no-fault reforms.
Progress Michigan, a group founded by Democrats, estimates as many as 10 Republican lawmakers also oppose the no-fault reforms, indicating enough votes to defeat the bill when it comes up for a vote.
"This is a bill that every member of our caucus agrees would hurt the residents we represent," Greimel said. "It is clear to each of our members that this is another example of Gov. Rick Snyder and some legislative Republicans choosing big corporations over Michigan residents, and this time insurance companies win over the catastrophically injured."
Among the criticisms of the reforms is that a $1 million cap on medical benefits will have the effect of shifting the bill for catastrophic care to taxpayer-funded Medicaid.
Snyder and backers of the bill say rising premiums indicate reforms are needed, and that the proposal will mean a $125 per vehicle drop in auto insurance rates.
It is extremely rare for Patterson and Democrats to agree on policy.
But Patterson said some issues transcend politics.
"Sometimes you have to do what you think is right and this fight over no-fault is one of those instances," he said. "Politics be damned. I'm on the side of the angels trying to protect the most vulnerable in our society."
Patterson also said he believes there's enough votes in the Republican-controlled House to defeat the reforms. He predicted that Bolger would be leaning on Republican lawmakers in a bid to see the reforms passed.
"You need 56 to pass it," he said. "If we can pick up eight or nine Republicans, plus all the Dems vote against, there's enough to block it in the House.
"One by one, Republicans who favor the status quo are going to be brought in and waterboarded by Herr Bolger, and they're going to try to turn them and threaten them," Patterson said. "And we'll see. We'll see how tough they are."
Some Republicans, however, believe Patterson's attacks on Bolger have crossed at least a line of civility.
"In the course of discussion over controversial policy issues, sometimes tempers flare," state Rep. Hugh Crawford, a Novi Republican said in a statement. "But to compare a respected leader of the state of Michigan to Adolf Hitler is a step too far.
"Policy differences aside, Brooks has hurt us all with this personal attack. We need to bridge the gap where our differences lie, not widen it, and Brooks needs to apologize immediately for his words and actions."
In his own statement, Snyder said lawmakers need "to make a personal commitment to help establish Michigan as a national leader in restoring respect and civility to the political process."