Note — The following column is from today's edition of The Morning Sun (it's the same column that I previewed last week):
Looking at him you wouldn’t know it, but William G. Milliken, Michigan’s longest-serving governor, turned 90 last week.
for the wondering minds out there, his middle name, Grawn, is the same
name that adorns Grawn Hall on the campus of Central Michigan
University, where his maternal grandfather, Charles Grawn, was president
for 18 years.
Milliken, who became acting governor in 1969 when
George Romney left the governor’s mansion to assume a position in the
cabinet of President Richard Nixon, was thrice elected — 1970, 1974,
1978 — in his own right. And because Michigan’s governors are now
constitutionally limited to two four-year terms, Milliken will
presumably keep his record for the ages.
Since leaving office,
Milliken’s name has been invoked countless times by politicians looking
to associate themselves with middle-of-the-road ticket-splitters.
“He’s where most Americans are on the
issues,” said Inside Michigan Politics editor Bill Ballenger, a
political grandee who served in the Legislature, unsuccessfully ran for
the federal Senate and was a Milliken appointee.
found irony in many Democrats styling themselves as the heirs to
Milliken, saying: “They sit around saying how terrible these modern
Republicans are because they are so conservative, but they tried to
screw Milliken and the Republicans every chance they could get.”
Milliken’s legacy is best defined by the way he handled these
opponents. No matter what happened, he was a calm, soft-spoken and
“Governor Milliken was the
quintessential class act who didn’t vilify his political enemies even
though he knew they were trying to knife him in his back,” said
Ballenger. “I think just the fact that he was a moderate Republican — one of the last, perhaps the last — that we have had in high places made
him more acceptable to Democrats and independent ticket-splitters, but
Democrats [in Lansing] were never warm to him when he was in office.”
many nostalgically look back to the Milliken era as the Golden Age of
Michigan politics, it’s tough to compare today’s body politic with that
of his governorship.
Namely because politics, and more importantly the political culture, is fundamentally different.
Republicans — let alone
conservatives — were very much a minority, as Democrats controlled the
Legislature for most of the time Milliken was governor. This forced the
governor to work with Democrats to pass even the most basic of
It wasn’t until the political realignment that came
about in 1976 and finished with Ronald Reagan’s election to the
presidency in 1980 that conservatives became entrenched in both
government and Republican politics.
Transposing Milliken’s policy
stances into contemporary times does a great disservice to the man, as
Milliken is truly a product of his times, whose ideology and political
lineage can be traced back to Teddy Roosevelt’s Republican Party.
Michiganders should remember that today’s highly charged and
hyper-partisan political environment isn’t the way it has to be.
There is a better way to govern. There is the way of William G. Milliken.
— Dennis Lennox