John Engler became the first former Republican governor of Michigan to give a prime mealtime speech in the main dining room of the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island at a GOP biennial leadership conference, in this case the 31st such meeting, at a Saturday morning breakfast, Sept. 23.
It was the 60th anniversary of the first such conclave, held Sept. 6-8, 1957, after Democratic Gov. G. Mennen “Soapy” Williams had been re-elected to a record fifth term and swept all his down-ballot statewide Democratic candidates into office with him the previous year, even while Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower was winning a second term and carrying Michigan in the process.
Here’s almost a verbatim transcript of what Engler had to say to a crowd of 400+, with some deletions, paraphrasing, and elippses in the interest of removing redundancy, hemming and hawing, and crowd noise. The Ballenger Report is the only news outlet to present this, which would otherwise be lost to history:
“Thank you, Ron Weiser, what a lovely introduction … Ron has been a great friend for a very long time. A marvelous leader for the Republican Party and the state of Michigan and a leader on a national level … He is highly respected … He’s served his country, too, because President Bush appointed him as Ambassador to Slovakia, where he served with great distinction … He’s succeeded in everything he’s done, and there was no one more deserving in the election last fall than Ron Weiser when he was elected to the University of Michigan Board of Regents … Although, Ron, I’ve got to report that there is one problem — we took a poll last night at the dinner table and there is great sentiment to bring back the pecan ball! Cliff Taylor is apparently leading some effort to see if that can be restored as part of the tradition here at Mackinac … We were able to steer one for Clifford last night, but everybody else kind of went home empty. Just saying … As for Dan Musser and the Grand Hotel, this is one of the largest events they host here, so congratulations and thanks to him for everything he and his staff have done for us (ovation)…
“I could not be more excited to be back here. Michelle and I have been sending pictures to Madeleine and Hanna and Maggie (the three Engler triplets), saying: “Gee, look where we are, and you’re not!” This is one of their favorite places to be … I remember (nearly 30) years ago when Dan Pero said to me when I was here and Dan said, pointing up the hill (at the governor’s residence), “We’re going to take back that house over there.” Well, we got that done, and pretty soon that house had three new occupants (the triplets, born in 1994, after Engler was elected governor in 1990). The girls loved coming up here. They’ve all graduated from college, and Michelle and I are very proud of that fact. They finished up — one in April, one in May, one in June. Hannah graduated from the University of Michigan in April … she majored in religion, and now she’s working in New York as a marketing assistant, and it’s almost enough to pay the rent. Madeleine graduated in May from William & Mary with a history degree, and then in June Maggie graduated from Stanford with a degree in electrical engineering. That’s a great degree to have, so she’s employed — she’s out in San Mateo, and she wanted a roommate, so she talked her sister into moving out there, so Madeleine moved out there and she’s dropped her resumes all over San Mateo and that part of the Bay area, so if you’re looking for a really talented history graduate, we’ve got one! … The wife of one of our party chairs, Jane Abraham, has a retail store in Alexandria, Virginia, and Madeleine worked there for several weeks this summer so she’s got some experience in retail that she’s taking out to California, so she’s looking to use that in until she gets something a little more long-term … So that’s a little update on the girls. Michelle and I are staying in northern Virginia, but gonna try to spend a little more time here in Michigan. That’s our story, and we’re sticking to it …
“I look at our past party chairmen — there’s Ronna McDaniel, who we used to call “Little Ronna” because her mother was also named Ronna, but now she’s not “Little Ronna” anymore. She’s all grown up and she was fully in charge as the chairman of our party here and is now doing a great job as our national chairman (ovation) … “Together we rise!” is a great theme (for this conference) and was the epitome of what we achieved in 2016, but we have a lot of work to do in 2018, but we’re getting ready … It’s all about the next November general election. It’s great to say “I’m the nominee,” but it doesn’t really make a difference unless you win the November general election… We’ve got to keep our eye on the prize. I was fortunate enough to win 10 primaries, but what was really important was to win 10 general elections, and that’s how you get the opportunity to serve.
“I look around this room, and Betsy (DeVos) was here last night, Dave Doyle, Susy Avery, Bobby Schostak, all party chairs … Our 27-11 majority in the state senate — that is really impressive … I don’t think we’ve had that going back to the Civil War (Editor’s note: Republicans held a 28-4 majority in 1947-48; a 23-9 majority in 1949-50; a 25-7 majority in 1951-52; and a 24-8 majority in 1953-54, but nothing as robust since) … The Legislature has been incredibly productive, handling some very tough issues that we did not succeed in getting done when I was Governor and when I was in the Legislature … During our tenure, I remember we had gone about 10 years since our unemployment rate was below the national average, and we went along and we kept getting it lower and lower, and it finally reached, I think, 3.3%, and now today it’s back under 4% … So when you say, “We Rise,” we didn’t rise by accident. We rise because we lead …
“And we’ve got to lead with Kurtis Wilder, the newest member of the Michigan Supreme Court. I was able to appoint Kurtis to the Court of Appeals, and I also appointed his predecessor, Bob Young … who later performed so ably and with great courage and such restraint on the Supreme Court. That situation can be so fragile. If somebody goes wobbly things can go sideways in a hurry… so it’s important to be vigilant there … The president not only put Bob Young on his short list for the (U.S.) Supreme Court, he also put Joan Larsen on that list … and Brian Zahra is also being talked about, and we should be very proud of all that …
” (We’ve got so much talent) — 34 governors around the country, and we’ve got a lot of young senators … You talk about how the rules ought to be changed (in Washington), and how we ought to shake up the place. You know, one of the things in the Senate I’d look at is we ought to change the seniority rule. We ought to put talent in charge, not senior people in charge … These new people come in and wait and wait and wait. I’d love to see a system where the most talented people come in and have an opportunity to lead … It’s just possible that the octogenarians have a little less energy than those in their 40s and 50s. .. I don’t think I’m slowing down, I know Ron Weiser isn’t slowing down … But some of them maybe don’t have quite as much going for them as they once did. Just saying …
“We need to get tax reform done. We need to be economically strong as a nation. I know we’ve got every member of the Michigan (Republican) delegation who’s on board except one, and he’s the Congressman in the Grand Rapids area that’s a little hard to please (Editor’s note: Justin Amash). Well, he needs to be worked with, counseled. If we can get everybody on board we can get that job done, as part of reconciliation … We’ve got people like Debbie Stabenow, who are part of “The Resistance” in Washington … who are simply not going to vote for tax reform… I know from my previous roles with the Manufacturers Assn and the Business Roundtable, the #1 thing we need to get done is tax reform… We’ve got to finish that… It looks like, thanks to Senator McCain, health care reform is defunct, but, interestingly, what the new Graham-Cassidy health care reform proposal looks a lot like is what we worked on back in 1995-96 … when we worked on welfare reform, too. That was a block grant concept, and it was a two-year process … We twice passed legislation with Bill Clinton (as president) and he vetoed it .. Our theory at the time was, “Look, we don’t think we’ve got all the answers, and maybe nothing can work with the health care portion.” But we knew we had to fix it, that we had 50 governors, and somebody is going to figure this out. Somebody will get it right, if we were willing to take the responsibility to do it … It was clear the top-down solution from Washington was not going to work. But we couldn’t get the president to agree on the health care part. So, 20 years later we’re still stuck in the same place … Federalism requires delegation. Devolution is the way to do it. Every state is different. The situation is a lot different in Michigan than it is, say, in Idaho … We need the experimentation that federalism provides if we will just use it …
“On education, Betsy … has been almost unforgivably assailed by critics that just don’t … listen to what she’s trying to say, but I think she’s speaking to the majority of Americans when she says that every child in America deserves to have a good education. That does not mean that every child has to have a college degree. In fact, quite the opposite, it means every child must be given the opportunity to work, to compete, in order to succeed, to maximize their potential, but that might be very different depending on who you are (and what you want to be) …
“Think about what we’re facing here in Michigan, we’ve got the presumptive Democratic nominee, the former Senate minority leader, Gretchen Whitmer, who has pledged already to try to shut down all choice in Michigan. Not just the public school academies but also even school choice, which all over the state … is working … It’s been a pretty remarkable success. There was a recent hit piece in The New York Times … about the charter school movement in Michigan that is very misleading… They pointed out that 14 or 15 of our public school academies had been closed for educational accountability because they weren’t doing well enough … Well, if maybe after so many years kids weren’t able to read, well, one out of 20 closing, maybe we’re not doing the job we need to do … (OK, but during that time not a single public school had been closed. Were they all working well? Just asking) … But Gretchen Whitmer wants to shut all (the alternatives to K-12 public schools) down, Debbie Stabenow wants to shut all that down, that’s what the American Federation of Teachers wants us to do, and the National Education Assn … They want no competition and no choice… But what about people who can’t afford a new home in another school district, what about their educational opportunity? Betsy is taking on a job that she doesn’t need to take on, putting up with a lot of stuff she doesn’t need to put up with. But she’s doing it because she cares … This is something she believes in with every fiber of her body … Betsy is really doing a heroic job. She’s tenacious. She deserves our support. I am very proud of her … She’s in the president’s cabinet, she’s been chairman of the party, we’ve got some pretty impressive leaders who have been chairmen of the party, Ron and Bobby and Ronna and, well, then we’ve got some underachievers like Rusty (Editor’s note: Gerald “Rusty” Hills is now a Bill Schuette aide, and he still has “The Voice” that dominated GOP state conventions in the early 2000s). We’re working on him. We’re gonna help him. Where is he? I see him lurking back there … I’ll tell you who isn’t underachieving, and that’s YOU. You worked so hard, you shocked the nation, you put the president over the top, you changed the direction of the country … So keep your focus, and let’s go win it all in 2018. Thank you very much!”
John Ferris says
Bill, thanks so much for your complete speech of Engler’s. I will share this with Maxine as she is interested in the story of John’s family. I probably have told you that John was in my marketing class back in the 1960s.(I wish that I could find my grade report on him. He was frequently absent but so was my best friend and AGR classmate, Wayne Townsend, at Purdue pursuing his political career.) I knew John even at enrollment because I knew his father Matt in Extension as a cattle feeder.
In the early 1990s when Respert was a senior we played Illinois at home. As a faculty member, I was invited to a half time “shoot out” for Domino’s pizzas. I made the grade and earned more pizzas than anyone all year including my final shot for 3. .I fed my pizzas to my class. (Later I joked that I hit the 3 point shot at the buzzer which I could not hear because I forgot to turn on my hearing aids.) Anyway, I attended a luncheon in the Big 10 Room in Kellogg Center the next week. John spotted me standing in back of the room and told the audience about the event. I was embarrassed but also honored. John was a talented politician as he had the incredible talent to remember faces and names.
This afternoon, Maxine and I had a conversation with our cleaning lady. She and her husband are hard working Muslim immigrants from the Middle East. They are liberal, and she does not cover and actually wears shorts in the summer. We hug each other each month. They are like family. I had a failure with my tomato plants. Sada has filled the gap. They were on Mackinac Island last week on vacation. I asked her about how many Republicans they ran into and they responded. They are special to Maxine and me
While I retain my strong Republican orientation, for the second time, I did not vote for the Republican candidate in the 2016 presidential election. Trump did not represent my values as a Christian, a Republican nor as my understanding of how the world should proceed as an economist.
Bill, we did have our party which we have had every four years since we were married in 1964. Again, Janet Shroyer helped us. This may be our last. But we revere our relationship with you and the others in our family. Please keeping touch.
— Jake Ferris
Thanks, Jake! I know John Engler still remembers you fondly …
john engler says
I remember Professor Ferris. He was part of the dominant Ag Econ faculty when I was at Michigan State. I hope my grade is forever lost but regardless he and his wife, Maxine are true Spartans and a great credit to Spartan Nation.
MSU changed my life and every teacher like Jake Ferris contributed. Even if it was not reflected in the grades, they taught me a great many things.
Thanks for the memories.
— John Engler
John (Jake) Ferris says
Thanks, John, for remembering me. I am so very proud of your accomplishments. To elaborate about your grades and absences in class, I want to expand on my AGR fraternity brother Wayne Townsend who was very much like you on the other side politically. He was often absent from class at Purdue but did graduate with me in the Class of 1951 He ran unsuccessfully for governor in the 1980s when Reagan won nationally. Among Wayne’s legacy was that his relative, Cliff Townsend, had been a governor of Indiana.
He married Helen Hardin also in our 1951 Class. Her brother Lowell was my prof at Purdue in farm management. A cousin, Cliff Hardin, was head of the Experiment Station at MSU and later US Secretary of Agriculture. Wayne and Helen’s son Jay ran against Schumer in NY as a Republican in the last Senatorial Election and obviously lost. Jay runs a website as a political adviser. The Hardins are Quakers just as I am although I joined Peoples Church.
“On education, Betsy.” Maxine and I could not be more supportive. In 1968, having two sons, 3 and 1, we with 6 other couples founded the first Montessori School in mid MI and the second in the state. In spite of volunteering to override the cycling requirement on term limits, the board has rejected for my institutional memory. In 2018, we will celebrate 50 years as a very successful Montessori-Radmoor school on Mt. Hope in Okemos.
Our most noted graduate of our school is Larry Page, co-founder of Google. Since I have been on the board since 1968, I knew his father on the board in the late 1970s. Larry’s father was a professor in Computer Science at MSU and died before his son became famous.