The record-shattering “Tribute” to former Michigan Gov. John Engler presented by the Michigan Political History Society last week took on a simian strain.
The MPHS claimed more than 400 paying guests showed up at MSU’s Kellogg Center in East Lansing, raising more than $173,000, breaking the money standards set by previous MPHS fund-raisers aided by former Gov. James Blanchard, ex-Attorney General Frank Kelley, and Lansing attorney Richard McLellan.
Emceed by Mark Murray, a former top Engler administration official who went on to be president of Grand Valley State University before assuming top executive roles at Meijer, the program featured an array of Engler intimates and national political figures including Engler’s younger brother Jim; former Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus; longtime secretary of the state Senate Carol Viventi; former Senate Majority Leader Dan DeGrow; ex-Senate Minority leader Art Miller (D-Warren); and Robert Grubbs, now the U.S. Marshall for the Eastern District of Michigan after heading Engler’s security detail. Speaking on video were former Governors Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin and Haley Barbour of Mississippi as well as national political consultant and media commentator Mike Murphy, who grew up in Grosse Pointe.
So much of the speakers’ verbiage was insightful, historically valuable, and funny that it was easy to miss some seemingly-innocuous dialogue between Engler and Michigan’s current governor, Rick Snyder, mere minutes apart on the dais. In fact, Snyder was the first eminence to ascend to the rostrum in praise of the man who appointed him in 1999 to be the first chief of what has become state government’s principal economic development tool. Engler had to wait through all the other speakers to respond to one anecdote from Snyder:
SNYDER: … I recall when I was serving on a couple of assignments for Governor Engler a number of years ago, and the Governor wanted to create a new state agency, and I had some ideas about getting local communities and businesses working in partnership to retain and expand job opportunities and improve Michigan’s overall business climate, and I asked to meet with the Governor. So the Governor and I had a good conversation, and he listened very carefully to what I said, and when I got through he said, “Well, Rick, I’d like you to be the chairman of the new Michigan Economic Development Corporation.” So, folks, I learned if you ever bring John a problem, you better be ready with a solution, or you may end up with an assignment you never contemplated …
ENGLER: … I appreciate Gov. Snyder being here, and I remember what he was talking about back when we created the MEDC, and I’ll try to put that in a little more perspective and what I was thinking at the time. (Former Ambassador to Italy) Peter Secchia is here tonight, and Joan … and of course Pete was a very successful CEO at Universal Forest Products in Grand Rapids. Pete once gave me some advice I’ve never forgotten. He said, “When you’re a CEO or head of some organization, you’re going to find people want to come in and talk to you and bring their monkeys with them. The monkeys may be very interesting and worth talking about, but if you let the person leave your office without taking their monkeys with them you’re going to find that you begin to accumulate other peoples’ monkeys, and then three or four, and then pretty soon you find your whole office is filled with monkeys and you’ve got to figure out what to do with them. You can’t let that happen … You’ve got to make them take their monkeys with them when they leave your office …