Principles over politics and partisanship.
We cherish our governor, Gov. William “Bill” Milliken, for his most precious quality: his innate ability to set aside party, politics and partisanship for the good of all Michiganders.
Milliken, Traverse City’s beloved son and Michigan’s longest-serving governor, died Friday at his home. He was 97.
In these moments, when news and obituaries enshrine long lists of accomplishments, we choose to think about the qualities for which we so cherished in the man who continued to stand for his beliefs long after his political career ended.
We think about the void he leaves, an emptiness where a wise voice once steered us toward the middle, toward thoughtful compromise.
Yes, Milliken was integral in shaping our state, in setting priorities that benefit us today. He made Michigan the first state to ban PCBs and DDT, two chemicals linked to health and environmental problems. He pushed for passage of Michigan’s nation-leading bottle deposit law. And he fought fervently for civil rights.
He also was the longest-serving governor in Michigan history.
We will remember Milliken for all those milestones and more.
But he wouldn’t have accomplished any of those things without a lifelong commitment to follow a strong moral compass, often at substantial cost.
Milliken, a Republican, gained notoriety for speaking out against our nation’s increasingly polarized political class. He made a habit of endorsing candidates across party lines, basing his choices on what he felt was best for our country, not his party.
That “country over party” thinking made Milliken a rare, but extraordinarily important voice during the past decade as our politicians threw our country into a tailspin toward echo-chamber governing.
Milliken endorsed and embraced compromise in an era of extreme partisanship.
And it cost him.
In 2016, after years of meandering across political lines with endorsements, the local Republican Party rejected Milliken for his endorsement of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election.
Such rejection of dissent, rejection of differences of opinion, have become pervasive in our culture.
Today, as our community and state begin to absorb the passing of a man who represented all that seems absent from our politics today, we would like to think of Milliken in his own words.
The former governor, in a recorded interview in 2008, told reporter Chuck Stokes he would like to be remembered:
“As someone who tried to do the right thing, who tried to advance the cause of racial equality in our state. Who tried to head a government that dealt honestly and openly and fairly with every person in this state. And who tried to put intense partisanship aside to do what I thought was in the best interest of Michigan as a whole.”
Milliken’s legacy will be defined by all those things and more.
Today, we aren’t content to simply opine on the many accomplishments that made us so proud to call Milliken our own.
No, today we long for the wisdom of the man who refused to waver in his commitment to place the wellbeing of his people above the politics of his party.