Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Monday

January 13, 2014

'A gracious and grand person': Ex-Lt. Gov. Binsfeld remembered

TRAVERSE CITY — Former Michigan Lt. Gov. Connie Binsfeld was a pioneer for women in Michigan politics.

The longtime advocate for children, women and the environment died Sunday at age 89.

She was the first woman to hold leadership posts in Michigan’s House, Senate and executive branch. Her political groundbreaking was especially striking given her rural, northern Michigan roots, said Jason Allen, a former Michigan legislator and now senior policy adviser for the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency.

“I think you have to take a look at the things she did in the prism of the time,” Allen said. “Having a House leadership position in the 1970s, being a woman from up north, a Senate leadership position in the 1980s from up north, was remarkable. And then, being able to serve in the executive branch.”

Allen said he and his family visited Binsfeld Sunday afternoon at a Leelanau County assisted living facility where she was in hospice. She died hours later.

“Grandma Connie loved our kids, so it was a good thing to talk with her,” he said.

Binsfeld began her political career as a Leelanau County commissioner and was elected to the Michigan House in 1974. She served four terms there and in 1982 won a seat in the Senate, where she led the fight to ban surrogate pregnancy for pay.

She was a surprise pick as John Engler's running mate when he first sought the governorship in 1990. With polls showing him badly trailing Democratic incumbent James Blanchard, insiders predicted Engler would choose someone from the vote-rich Detroit area.

Engler instead tapped Binsfeld, a senator who shared his conservative views. They pulled off a narrow upset and were re-elected in 1994.

"It came down to wanting somebody that would truly be a partner who I could work with," Engler said. "I knew she was a very effective campaigner. She was also somebody who believed we could win."

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