Find all of our Election 2020 coverage and other candidate interviews here. More interviews will be added as the election draws closer. Click here to read our conversation with Kowall’s opponent, Democrat David Coulter.
Former state senator seeks to be Oakland County executive.
Former State Sen. Mike Kowall, a Republican, is looking to unseat Democrat David Coulter as Oakland County executive. Coulter was appointed to the post following the death last year of L. Brooks Patterson.
Here is our Zoom interview with Kowall, edited for clarity.
As a former state senator, why do you want to run for this position and, if elected, what would your top priorities be?
I really appreciate the economic development and quality of life we have in Oakland County. This is one of the best places to live in the United States. I’m running because I want to make sure we keep it that way, and that we’re very careful in how we spend tax dollars with the general public. I’m concerned that the fund equity we’ve built up is being depleted.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing Oakland County right now?
COVID is a major issue we need to get through with as little damage as possible. We seem to have a better handle on it than we did in the beginning, but I’m very concerned the Oakland County Health Department is not giving good direction and support to our schools. I also want to make sure the county’s finances are in place.
Mental health is a major issue not being addressed in our county. I see an opportunity to build a consortium of our hospitals, all which I’ve worked with when I was at the state. We could probably build one of the finest healthcare facilities in the United States by bringing these people together.
For the past several years, there have been efforts to get regional transit for our area, but Oakland County has been reluctant to increase their taxes and make that happen. What’s your vision for regional transit?
In the past, I’ve felt the importance of regional transit, but it has to be done in a fair and equitable way for the whole county, not just certain parts. The mass transit proposed recently would have unfairly treated people in outlying communities like Oakland Township, Holly, and here in Novi, yet these communities would end up paying for the whole system.
I’ve been on literally every mass transit study going back to 1999-2000. There’s a way to do it and make it fair, but everything’s changing dramatically, and people aren’t using mass transit, especially now with COVID. A lot of new, innovative things are happening.
You were originally going to run for Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner. What led to the decision to pivot and run for County Executive instead?
Because of my name recognition, my years of service and the work I’ve done, the Oakland County Republican Party asked me to run. I can address some of the issues that prompted me to run for water resources at the county executive level. For instance, we have an immense amount of infrastructure that needs to be replaced. Whenever it rains hard, Royal Oak and nearby areas get flooded — people’s basements fill with water — and that’s been going on a long time. It needs to be fixed, not just patchworked.
As Oakland County Executive, how would you address our current issues of systematic racism in order to bring people together peacefully and solve problems?
I think by having an open dialogue with Black and Hispanic communities here in the County — also Chinese, Japanese, and Chaldean — by talking with leaders in these communities, I don’t see why we couldn’t come to an agreement as to how we’re going to move forward in the future. The fact that we’re not seeing riots and people burning buildings down is a good sign that we just want to live together. Everybody wants to be peaceful, raise their kids, make a living and have a good quality of life.
There’s been a rise in white supremacy, white nationalism and antisemitism in the United States. What would be your message to the Jewish community to keep them safe?
I’ll do everything in my power to stop antisemites from getting any traction here in Oakland County, including sitting and talking with Jewish community leaders — I know most of them because I grew up and was immersed in a predominantly Jewish area of Detroit. I had family that died in concentration camps in Poland, so I understand the emphasis that needs to be put on antisemitism.
Can you talk about your ideas to increase manufacturing in Oakland County?
The idea of real economic development is not poaching businesses from Macomb or Detroit, but creating the right atmosphere for new companies to come in. We’re seeing a big emphasis on the 5G networks. We’re also seeing satellite launching, that’s happening down in Florida right now, and will soon be in Michigan. Oakland County and parts of Macomb are absolutely ripe for attracting these types of businesses and startups.
I’ve also been contacted by pharmaceutical companies who want to know about making products in Oakland County instead of places like China. It’s about bringing in new, innovative ideas. Kids moving out of Silicon Valley want to come home to Michigan, and we need to make sure they have a place to work and live.
The COVID-19 pandemic has hit small business owners and restaurants so that many are going under or they’re close to it. What can the Oakland County government do to help small business owners recover from this pandemic?
Being that we have some 30,000 small businesses in and around Oakland County, that’s going to be an extremely difficult thing. We need to make our economic development team more accessible to business owners who may have innovative ideas or just need some help with the state of Michigan so we can guide them through that frustrating maze. We know how difficult it is just to file for unemployment. Imagine what it’s like to try to work with MEDC when no one’s there during these times.
You have to have the right inroads and connections to get their attention, and I do. I have a good rapport with the governor, and though we don’t always agree, we like each other. I can talk to either side of the aisle, which is another reason why I’d be very good at this job.
Why should readers in Oakland County vote for you?
I’m deeply invested here in Oakland County. As I’ve said many times, it’s one of the best places on the planet to live. But we need to keep trying to improve daily. We have to look out for our grandkids. That’s why I’m so involved with the schools and concerned about education and mental health here in Oakland County. I take public service very seriously. I’m not a guy who gets elected and stays home from the office. I want to have people dedicated to specific areas of the county so we know exactly what’s happening and where we can help.