William Millken, a former 14-year Michigan governor who died Friday at 97 in his Traverse City home, carved an imprint on the state that's deep and rich -- as effusive bipartisan tributes confirm.
“Gov. Milliken was a true statesman who led our state with integrity and honor," Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, says of the Republican who was Michigan’s longest-serving chief executive (1969-83). "He had a unique ability to bring people from both sides of the aisle together for the betterment of Michigan." (Full statement is below.)
Her father, Richard Whitmer, served in his cabinet, veteran politics writer Susan J. Demas recalls at Michigan Advance. Her background sketch of the "moderate Republican and ardent environmentalist" mentions his ties to three well-known party figures and his bold 2016 presidential endorsement:
Milliken served as a state senator and then lieutenant governor under Gov. George Romney, father of U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah). Milliken became governor after then-President Richard Nixon tapped George Romney to serve in his administration. . . .
The former governor’s moderate politics didn’t jibe with an increasingly hard-right Republican Party in recent decades. . . . Milliken is bitterly remembered by Republicans for his Democratic endorsements, like Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in 2016. His Grand Traverse Republican Party even condemned him that year for his blessing of Clinton.
That type of open-minded of bipartisanship is "certainly needed today," tweets Rep. Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph):
Gov. Milliken was a friend, always. He encouraged me on many fronts and led a life with no regrets. His infectious smile charmed and disarmed all who knew him, and his bipartisan style served as a role model of days gone by and certainly needed today! https://t.co/PwzPDloOhc— Fred Upton (@RepFredUpton) October 18, 2019
At the Detroit Free Press, Lansing bureau chief Paul Egan notes that "after leaving office, he rejected the rightward turn of the GOP and expressed regret at the bitterness and divisiveness of public life.
"Today, politics is very mean and nasty. It just doesn't serve the public as well as it should," he said in 2014. . . .
He was known as a champion of Detroit and the state's environment, working closely with the late former Detroit Mayor Coleman Young, and pushing for Michigan's bottle deposit law, among other initiatives.
He made Michigan the first state to ban PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), which were widely used in electrical transformers and linked to cancer, and DDT, a pesticide harmful to wildlife and humans.
Reactions to his death reflect bipartisan admiration:
► James Blanchard, former Democratic governor (1983-91): "Gov. Bill Milliken was a role model for decency and civility in politics. Indeed he was the gold standard. He also governed effectively in a bipartisan fashion, something unheard of today.”
So very sad — Bill Milliken was the personification of decency. RIP to a fervent conservationist, a statesman, an honest and true gentleman. If only we had more like him in this moment of division and acrimony ...— Jennifer Granholm (@JenGranholm) October 18, 2019
I know his beloved wife Helen is happy to welcome him home. https://t.co/WnVTw0oG3U
We all will miss Bill Milliken’s devotion to Michigan and his calling to serve our state and our country. His leadership on environmental stewardship of our Great Lakes is a lasting legacy. He was a strong Governor.— Bill Schuette (@SchuetteOnDuty) October 18, 2019
Governor Bill Milliken was one of the most amazing public servants I’ve ever worked with. He set the bar for integrity, dedication, and kindness. His passion for MI and our Great Lakes was unsurpassed. I was honored to call him my friend. https://t.co/0ucpkDGVc1— Sen. Debbie Stabenow (@SenStabenow) October 18, 2019
1/2 "Gov. Milliken had an innate ability to bring people together. He was a man who understood diplomacy and the importance of bipartisanship. Michigan is a stronger state because of his leadership and ability to reach across the aisle to make the lives of our residents better.— Michigan Attorney General (@MIAttyGen) October 19, 2019