'A true statesman:' Tributes salute longtime Gov. Bill Milliken of Michigan, 97

October 19, 2019, 7:02 AM

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.)

William Grawn Milliken
March 26, 1922 – Oct. 18, 2019

(Photo: James Pickerell)

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):

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.”

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