2019 : Former Governor Bill Milliken Dies

October 18, 2019 all-day

William “Bill” Milliken Jr., Michigan’s longest-serving governor, was a moderate Republican who pursued an activist conservation and environmental agenda during his 14 years as governor from 1969 to 1983 before Michigan voters limited governors to serving two four-year terms. He also made high priorities of race relations and urban issues.

The former two-time lieutenant governor helped persuade voters to adopt Michigan’s 10-cent bottle deposit law in 1976 and won legal limits on phosphates in laundry detergent that had polluted Lake Erie in the 1970s.

In 1979, Milliken signed the Wetlands Protection Act, which created stricter guidelines for controlling water runoff from farming fields.

He also was known for his strong relationship with fiery Detroit Mayor Coleman Young, a Democrat.

Milliken helped Detroit survive financial problems in the 1970s by getting approved a $35-million-a-year state aid package to institutions such as the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Detroit Zoo and the Detroit Public Library that helped serve all of Michigan. He also got legislative approval for the city to raise its income tax in 1981 during the recession.

Milliken initially ascended to the governor’s office in 1969 after then-Gov. George Romney resigned to become the housing and urban development secretary for then-President Richard Nixon. He went on to win three four-year terms in 1970, 1974 and 1978 before leaving office in January 1983.

Before getting elected as Romney’s lieutenant governor in 1964, Milliken won a four-year term in the state Senate, where both his father and grandfather had served.

His rise in statewide politics was preceded by a storied career in the military and business.

Milliken’s studies at Yale University were interrupted by World War II in 1943 when he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He flew 50 combat missions as a B-24 waist gunner and was wounded over Vienna, Austria. He was awarded a Purple Heart, an Air Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters and a European Theater Ribbon with three battle stars, according to a biography published in the state’s 1973-74 Michigan Manual.

After finishing college, Milliken married Helen Wallbank and moved back to Traverse City. From 1947 to 1955, he served as president of the J.W. Milliken department stores in Cadillac, Manistee and Traverse City — a company founded by his grandfather.

Milliken’s work on conservation and environmental issues began in 1947 when then-Gov. Kim Sigler appointed him to the Michigan Waterways Commission, according to the state Department of Natural Resources.

In recent elections, Milliken distanced himself from more conservative leaders of the Michigan Republican Party and endorsed some Democratic candidates for statewide and national offices. In 2004, he backed then-U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, over incumbent GOP President George W. Bush of Texas.

In 2006, Milliken supported Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm in her re-election bid over Republican businessman Dick DeVos from the Grand Rapids area. And in 2014, Milliken sided with Democratic then-U.S. Rep. Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township in his U.S. Senate victory over former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, a Grand Rapids-area Republican.

Milliken also endorsed Democrat Mark Totten over incumbent GOP Attorney General Bill Schuette, who soundly defeated Totten in the November 2014 election.

But the former governor was willing in his later years to endorse Republicans who seemed to mesh better with his moderate sensibilities.

Milliken backed Republican Gov. Rick Snyder in 2010 and 2014. At times, Snyder was called a “Milliken Republican” for championing the expansion of Medicaid health insurance coverage for the poor and pursuing an agenda aimed at revitalizing Detroit and other urban areas dominated by Democrats.

“I have not always agreed with Gov. Snyder on every issue,” Milliken wrote in a 2014 endorsement letter. “But I believe on the major issues that affect Michigan’s future he has made tough decisions that have truly made Michigan a comeback state.”

In 2010, Milliken campaigned for Snyder in Detroit, where he was popular as governor and won nearly 40% of the vote in his last re-election in 1978.

Source : Chad Livengood, “Bill Milliken, Michigan’s longest-serving governor, dies”, Detroit Free Press, October 18, 2019.