• Gary Woronchak

Primary recalls McColloughs' place in political history

Fifty years ago, Dearborn voters selected a rare, mother-son legislative team when Patrick McCollough was elected to the state Senate, joining mom Lucille McCollough, who was in her 16th year serving in the state House.

I was reminded of this when I saw a 1970 newspaper ad on the Dearborn Historical Museum’s Facebook page for that year’s primary election for both McColloughs. In the wake of this week’s primary election, I thought of another primary with McCollough-Dearborn connections that had a ripple effect in Dearborn political history and even played a part in Michigan’s political trajectory: The state’s election for governor in 1978.

First, let me back up and do a quick review of Lucille’s history. She served on the Dearborn City Council for two terms, 1950-51 and 1952-53. She was the second woman elected to the council, with Marguerite Johnson being the first by one term, elected in 1947. Lucille was elected Dearborn’s state representative in November 1954 and held the position for 28 years, before losing a bid for re-election in 1982. She was defeated by Bill Runco, then in his mid-20s and serving his first term on the Wayne County Board of Commissioners. Runco's campaign was helped by an endorsement from Mayor Jack O'Reilly Sr. As I recall, there was some sort of falling out between Jack and Lucille, which prompted the mayor, a longtime Democrat, to support Runco, a Republican, over the Democrat McCollough. Runco later went on to serve two terms as a district judge and has remained active over the years with the GOP. Lucille McCollough’s service to the community was recognized with the naming of McCollough-Unis School in the Schaefer-Tireman area (along with legendary Arab-American community activist Don Unis). Back to Pat McCollough. As noted, Patrick was elected to the state Senate in 1970 and re-elected in 1974, but left the seat in 1978 to run for governor in the Democratic primary election. He was unsuccessful in that effort. Bill Fitzgerald won the primary and went on to lose to incumbent Gov. William Milliken for what would turn out to be Milliken’s final term. Meanwhile, George Hart, who had been a county commissioner and city councilman, won the state Senate seat in 1978 when McCollough left it for his unsuccessful gubernatorial run. Pat McCollough made a strong comeback four years later, defeating Hart in the Democratic primary on the way to regaining the Senate seat. But his victory was less than sweet, with Runco beating Lucille to spoil the reuniting of the mother-son Lansing duo. And the comeback quickly turned to combat for the returned state senator. One of the first actions taken in the new term was a temporary increase in the state income tax. New Gov. Jim Blanchard had to deal with revenue shortfalls from a recession, and proposed raising the income tax from 4.6 percent to 6.35 percent. Blanchard, a Democrat, relied on the razor-thin Democratic majority in the Senate to push through the tax hike, which it did, including with a vote by McCollough. The tax increase passed the Senate on a vote of 20-18. Backlash from the public was immediate. Two Democratic state senators were actually removed from office by recall in November 1983 over the tax increase, the first time ever that a Michigan legislator was removed in that manner. McCollough was also targeted for recall, to the point of petitions being submitted, but a lack of sufficient valid signatures saved him from having to face a recall vote. Dodging a recall didn’t make for a pleasant rest of the term, though. The recalled senators were replaced by Republicans, which flipped control of the Senate to Republicans for the first time since before Pat was first elected. This left McCullough and the Democrats relegated to minority party status in the Senate, which wields much less power in state government. He had had enough. After the one-term comeback, Pat McCollough did not seek re-election, and left elective politics. (Pat did go on to have a successful career as a lobbyist, and I had the pleasure of working with him on issues to benefit Dearborn when I was Dearborn’s state representative.) George Hart again won the Senate seat in 1986 with McCollough out of the race. Runco left the state House to run unsuccessfully against Hart for Senate, opening the door for Agnes Dobronski to become the new state rep in the 1986 election. On the way to winning the House seat in 1986, Dobronski defeated Jack O’Reilly Jr. in the Democratic primary election, in Jack Jr.’s first run for public office, and, as it turned out, the only time he would ever lose a race. Runco beat Dobronski two years later to regain the House seat, but left to run for judge in 1990, opening the door for Dobronski to again become state rep. O’Reilly Jr., who had worked on Hart’s staff in the state Senate, became City Council president in the 1989 election and of course is still our mayor. Life is filled with random events that chart the path of history. Pat McCollough running for governor in the 1978 primary election was a pebble that caused far-reaching ripples. Without that single event, who knows how all those other political figures would have been affected. If he would’ve remained a senator, maybe Pat could’ve prevented the rift between Lucille and O’Reilly Sr. Maybe George Hart stays a county commissioner instead of serving 20 years in the Senate. Maybe O’Reilly Jr. doesn’t run for state rep, never gets the appetite for running for office, and takes another path. Maybe Dobronski stays on the school board and Runco remains state rep until term limits in 1998. Impossible to know, of course. But, a lot of possibilities. Pat McCollough's income tax vote in 1983 had a lasting effect on the state Senate. While control of the state House has flipped back and forth between Democrats and Republicans a few times in the years since, the tax vote of 1983 has kept the state Senate solidly in GOP control for the 36 years since. And here’s one final, interesting historical twist to all of this: When Republicans took control of the state Senate because of the recalls, it elevated Republican John Engler to the position of Senate Majority Leader. In 1990, Engler parlayed that Senate leadership position into an upset victory over Blanchard, starting Engler’s three terms as Michigan governor.

Sen. Patrick McCollough's unsuccessful campaign for governor in 1978 was lampooned in this Dearborn Press & Guide cartoon by Cliff Lonner. Pat and his mother, state Rep. Lucille McCollough, had been a rare mother-son combination in the state Legislature.

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