Sep 30, 2007
Michigan Political History Society to honor former Gov. Jim Blanchard
It was 25 years ago that a young U.S. Congressman from Lansing broke the Republican’s 20-year ownership of the Michigan Governor’s seat. The nonpartisan, nonprofit Michigan Political History Society is celebrating that milestone in Michigan history with a 25th Anniversary Celebration of Governor Jim Blanchard Friday at the Lansing Country Club.
“It's obviously not the exact date he was elected, but it was the fall of 1982 that be became governor,” said David Murley, the President of the Michigan Political History Society.
The reception will begin at 5:30 p.m. Friday at the country club at 2200 Moores River Dr. in Lansing with the program beginning at 7 p.m. Bob Bowman, the state Treasurer under Blanchard – the youngest state treasurer in the country at the time of his appointment - and current President and CEO of Major League Baseball, the interactive media company of MLB- will serve as emcee. Tickets are $100, and the money raised will be used to continue the society’s work of conducting interviews for oral histories of Michigan’s notable political figures.
The oral histories the society has collected for the past 10 years include notable Michigan political figures like former Attorney General Frank Kelly, former UAW President Doug Fraser and former state Republican Party Chair Elly Peterson. The collection will be renamed the James J. Blanchard Living Library of Political History.
The Society has a list of some 50 people it wants to interview and put on DVDs for distribution to Michigan Government Television (MGTV), Michigan PBS TV stations, university libraries and the Michigan Historical Museum and Library. Among that list are people such as U.S. Rep. John Dingell, Blanchard and the Levin Brothers: U.S. Sen. Carl Levin and U.S. Rep. Sander Levin.
“Every few years when a major political figure in Michigan passes away we kick ourselves for not interview them sooner,” Murley said. “We just want to hear from them things like why they got into politics and what was behind some of the major decisions they made.”
Murley, a registered Republican, said he has no problem with celebrating the accomplishments of a Democratic governor, and he said political figurers who have worked to better Michigan no matter what side of the political spectrum they try to accomplish that goal from should be honored.
“You just can’t deny that Jim Blanchard was a major political figure in the postwar era,” he said.
Blanchard was born on Aug. 8, 1942 in Detroit. He had an early interest in politics, and it first came to bloom when he was elected as the senior class president at Michigan State University. He graduated from MSU in 1964 and in 1965 he received a Masters Degree in business administration from MSU in 1965. He then graduated from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1968. He returned to Lansing following law school and went briefly into private practice before working for the Michigan Attorney General from 1969-1974.
He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from the 18th District in 1974, and he served four terms in the House from 1975-1983. As a relatively junior member of the House, Blanchard achieved his greatest legislative achievement by helping Chrysler secure the federal loan guarantees that kept it from going bankrupt and closing in 1979.
In 1982 he was elected the 45th Governor of Michigan, ending 20 years of Republican control of the Governor’s seat, beginning with George Romney in 1963 and William Milliken in 1969. Blanchard served two terms. He was reelected in 1986 by the largest margin of any governor in Michigan history.
In his first year in office Blanchard faced perhaps an even worse economic situation than Michigan faces now, but some aspects of that situation are very similar. Michigan faced a $1.7 billion budget deficit, the threat of bankruptcy and record high double-digit unemployment of more than 17 percent in 1983. Blanchard pushed for a temporary hike in the state income tax rate that helped Michigan climb out of the financial mess, but it came at a steep cost. Two Democratic Senators were recalled for voting on the increase, giving Republicans control of the Senate they still maintain today.
The state is facing a similar situation with a $1.8 billon budget deficit, and an anti-tax group threatening to recall selected lawmakers if they vote for an increase in taxes. The group, the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance, is led by former state Rep. Leon Drolet, now a Macomb County commissioner.
Blanched lost his bid for a third term to Republican John Engler in a brilliant campaign by Engler and his supporters. Following the loss, Blanchard went again into private law practice, but he still kept a hand in politics. In 1992 he ran the successful Michigan presidential campaign for President Bill Clinton. The two became friends when Blanchard served as the chairman of the Democratic Governors Association and Clinton was the governor of Arkansas.
In 1993 Clinton appointed Blanched Ambassador to Canada, and he served in that post until 1996. Blanched was able to run for Governor again under the term limit rules, but he lost in the Democratic primary in 2002 to Gov. Jennifer Granholm.
Blanched was brought back into the current budget situation when Granholm tapped him and Milliken to head the 12-person, bipartisan Emergency Financial Advisory Panel in January to come up with some solutions to the financial and budget situation facing the state. In February the group that consisted of state budget directors, legislative leaders and longtime Lansing policy experts from both political parties issued its report that said “a combination of cuts in spending and creating a modern tax structure that abandons the focus on the economic system of the 20th century will address the shortfall and combat the immediate shortfalls and position the state to thrive in the future.”
For tickets to the event all Linda Cleary, administrate director of the Michigan Political History Society, at (517) 333-7996.