The death of former state Senator Jack Faxon, who passed away Jan. 9 at age 83, leaves Raymond M. Murphy (D-Detroit) as the last surviving delegate to the state Constitutional Convention of 1961-62 who also served in the Michigan Legislature.
The iconoclastic Faxon served three decades in the Legislature from 1965-1994 (three terms in the House, six terms in the Senate). He was the youngest delegate at Con-Con, beginning at age 24. Murphy, who turned 92 last month, served in the state House from 1983-98 and in the Senate from 1999-2002. He is one of only six Con-Con delegates still alive, but none of the others ever was elected to the Legislature, although several tried.
Faxon, an unapologetic liberal Democrat, was a Detroit Public Schools teacher in the nine years before he served in the state capitol, initially representing a Detroit district but later enclaves in southern Oakland County. His involvement in education continued all through his years in Lansing. Until recently, he was the headmaster of the multilingual International School in Farmington Hills, a private academy he founded in 1968. The school consisted of children from around the world who were immersed in a curriculum that promoted multilingual studies, leading to what The Jewish News has described as “increased cognitive development.”
In the Legislature, he advocated that public pensions be protected at all costs. He was also a champion of public funding of the arts. In fact, he was the author of the public act establishing the state Council for the Arts. He was president pro-tempore of the Senate until Republicans took control of the chamber in late 1983.
A little-known fact about Faxon was unearthed just last week by Craig Thiel, Research Director for the Citizens Research Council. In ransacking the voluminous files bequeathed to the Library of Michigan by another young Con-Con delegate, Gil Wanger (also still alive), Thiel discovered that Faxon was one of only five delegates who protested a last-minute amendment to Article IX, Section 11, of the final draft of the new Constitution (later ratified by Michigan voters in 1963) that included the words “higher education” in language establishing the School Aid Fund. That has proved a sore point ever since for K-12 public educators, who have believed that the School Aid Fund should be devoted entirely to secondary level public education. The amendment, pushed through by a Republican delegate, Alvin Bentley of Owosso, gives constitutional grounding to the argument that successive governors as well as the Legislature have every right to expend School Aid Fund dollars on Michigan’s public colleges and universities.
Services for Faxon were held Sunday, January 12, at the Hebrew Memorial Chapel in Oak Park. It’s safe to say his likes have never been seen in the state capitol since he departed a generation ago. He was exuberant, effervescent, and ebullient — in fact, downright exotic — all qualities in short supply in Lansing.
Besides Murphy and Wanger, a retired Lansing attorney who recently published a book on a section in the Michigan Constitution he authored at Con-Con that bans capital punishment, the other Con-Con survivors include:
- Don Binkowski, 90, a retired Warren district judge who also served as an assistant attorney general and on Warren’s city council;
- Theodore Brown, 90, of Albuquerque, New Mexico;
- Robert G. Hodges, 84, of Grosse Pointe Park; and
- Robert King, 90, of West Branch. But while these four, like Faxon and Murphy, had a hand in drafting Michigan’s current constitution, none went on to serve in the Legislature.
Tina Holland says
We have Democratic office now in Lansing,who wants to make Michigan a sissy state.
Roberta E Stanley says
Well done, Bill. I think the word iconoclastic sums him up perfectly. And your other observations are oh so true. I was taken aback by the Rabbi mentioning that Jack’s father, an engineer, was fired by an unnamed motor company when it was discovered he was Jewish. I suspect that contributed to Jack’s drive.
Susy Avery says
I agree with Roberta. Great article by Bill. I had no idea about Faxon’s father either!
Marc Speiser says
Senator Faxon’s intelligence was matched with a wonderful impish sense of humor. He will be missed; his willingness to engage others stands in stark contrast to today’s “cancel culture.” He relished debate and practiced his craft well. May his memory be a blessing.
Mike Kent says
I hadn’t heard this Bill. Thanks for sharing. As a reporter I covered Jack in the legislature and he was certainly part of a different generation of politicians. There’s much that can be learned from the likes of Jack. It was a great time to be a young reporter.
Pat Laughlin says
Excellent and accurate overview Bill! Jack was unique and, as such, a valuable component to a pre- term limits deliberative legislative process.