Dempsey will appear at the Northern Michigan Environmental Action Councils (NMEAC)17th Annual Environmentalist of the Year Celebration, Friday, April 21 at the Waterfront Conference Center in Traverse City. Milliken and his wife Helen will be honored for their many contributions to the environment. Dempsey will speak about those contributions and read excerpts from his book.
Dempseys book William G. Milliken: Michigans Passionate Moderate, details Millikens life as a war hero in WWII (Millikens war experience included 50 combat missions on a B-24 and being wounded over Vienna, Austria, for which he was awarded the Purple Heart) and his public contributions both pre- and post- governor years.
Dempsey was surprised that a biography had not been written before his.
During conversations in the late 1990s on another book I was writing, I interviewed Milliken and discussed the biography concept with him. At that time someone else was writing one but that fell through so I jumped at the chance, said Dempsey (who spent three years researching and writing the biography).
Besides the obvious reason of Milliken being the states longest serving governor I felt that his contributions protecting the environment and the Great Lakes were well ahead of their time and that his life and contributions should be examined and documented.
Dempsey hopes that this book will serve more than just a recollection of Millikens contributions, who in 1978 was selected the nations most influential governor by his fellow governors.
I hope the reader will go beyond the nostalgia and look at the possibilities of a return to Millikens type of governance, said Dempsey. There is much to be learned by the Milliken years. He governed with such civility and compromise that he was able to accomplish so much. It is an example that todays generation and political leaders may learn from and also strive to achieve. There is so much gridlock today that one must wonder if the publics best interest is being served.
Milliken, his family, colleagues and friends, cooperated with Dempsey, who also pointed to mistakes in judgment, in some of the governors policies.
No life is perfect and certainly no administration is without its faults. I wanted to be careful not to paint this picture of total perfection, said Dempsey, whose father served as an advisor and confidant to Milliken. Milliken, though, is the only elected official that I know who has admitted to errors and worked hard to correct them after out of office. In particular, his position on a life without parole for drug dealers that ended up targeting users and drug runners versus drug kingpins. He lobbied extensively after office to change this.
There were several things that impressed Dempsey about Millikens life, including the former governors military service (a humble Milliken never campaigned on his military record or war hero status) and his relationship with his wife Helen.
There could easily be and there definitely should be a biography on Helen Milikens life, said Dempsey. There is no question she played a major role in shaping the Milliken legacy and played important parts on several pieces of legislation.
Dempsey said their relationship and marriage was a strong one and the couple practically saw eye-to-eye on most issues.
Their strong relationship allowed for Mrs. Milliken to be on the front lawn of the Capitol protesting for womens rights while her husband was inside at work, said Dempsey. One big-money Republican once even asked the governor to quiet Mrs. Milliken. But that was not his way. He valued her thoughts and input.
The book details the numerous environmental contributions Milliken made, including the bottle bill (10 cent bottle/can deposit).
He took a political risk with this one as the legislature had voted it down, said Dempsey. But the Millikens together championed a referendum that led to it becoming law. He also stood up to major Republican donor Jay VanAndel (of Amway) on the phosphorus content of laundry detergent.
Dempsey said Milliken had a way about him that politicians today dont have.
He was respected by both sides of the aisle, said Dempsey. He forged a friendship with Detroits Mayor Coleman Young that led to many cultural and economic benefits for both Detroit and the state.
As for Milliken not pursuing a political life on a national level, Dempsey said the governor never cared much for Washington DC. As for Millikens relationship with the first President Bush, Dempsey said that had soured before Bush became president.
Milliken was upset with comments Bush made while campaigning for president about the ACLU. He wrote the senior Bush expressing his dissatisfaction and letting him know that he was a card-carrying member of the ACLU, said Dempsey. I not sure if they ever spoke after that.
While Milliken didnt consider cabinet positions or ambassadorships, he remained very active after leaving office.
He served on numerous corporate boards, non-profit foundations and lent his name to several causes, said Dempsey. It often is said that Jimmy Carter was our best out of office president for his post presidential contributions; I think the same can be said about Milliken. He is definitely been the best and most active governor we have had after he leaving office.
After the NMEAC dinner on April 21, Dempsey will return on May 16 for a public reception to honor the Millikens and a book signing at the Hagerty Center in Traverse City. To learn more about the NMEAC dinner to honor the Millikens visit www.nmeac.org or call 231.946.6931.
Editors note: The Northern Express will have a detailed interview with the Millikens in our May 11 issue.