Ballenger Relives 1,100-Mile Walk Across Michigan In New Interview
The former state legislator was never much of a fundraiser, says MIRS, and didn’t have the Congressional experience of former U.S. Rep. Philip Ruppe (R-Houghton), so he needed to do something special to win over Republican primary voters. According to MIRS:
After consulting with prominent Republican Jerry ROE, Ballenger decided he would walk the height of Michigan from the Canadian border to the Detroit River, where he pledged to jump into its waters.
Starting at the International Bridge in Sault Ste. Marie in the middle of January, a bundled-up Ballenger began what eventually became a 1,100-mile trek around Michigan. In a Michigan Political History Society interview released this week, Ballenger shares his adventure in trying to secure the nomination.
In the six-part series, Ballenger, now 78, talks about his lengthy political resume and his frank views on the politics of the current day, including this one:
“All this idea that I hear nowadays about, ‘Oh my God, back in the good ol’ days, everybody got along. We reached across the aisle. We all went out and drank together afterwards. Everything was amicable and whatever differences we had on the House and Senate floor, we left them behind. We went off and caroused together. We were colleagues. We were buddies. That is B.S. That was not true. There was more (camaraderie), yes, then, but not that much more than there is now.”
Among his most memorable journeys was trekking through the Upper Peninsula in -19 degree weather to Mackinac Island. He and his driver walked an ice bridge from St. Ignace to Mackinac Island since they weren’t allowed to walk on the Mackinac Bridge.
“We were all alone, with no guide, but the Yoopers had marked a trail across the ice to Mackinac Island with little Christmas trees, so you didn’t get lost in a blizzard and veer off toward Marquette Island or Bois Blanc,” he said.
“We would break into sprints — or tried to, on the slippery ice — and then do belly flops and we would slide for 30 feet ahead. I remember from my stomach peering down into the black ice and seeing cracks, fissures beneath us that extended down out of sight, like Jules VERNE‘s 20,000 leagues beneath the sea.
“It was an unforgettable experience. I think it took us about an hour and a half to get to the Island.”
The interview is among the 39 conversations available with such Michigan political legends as former Gov. Bill MILLIKEN, Attorney General Frank KELLEY and U.S. Senators Carl LEVIN and Robert GRIFFIN as part of the James J. BLANCHARD Living Library of the Michigan Political History Society (hit the “interview” link above)..
The Ballenger interview was conducted by education and political activist Susan Steiner BOLHOUSE and MIRS Editor Kyle MELINN.
While he may be the state’s predominant political pundit today, Ballenger used to be a “Milliken moderate” Republican a half-century ago. But, back then, being a moderate was not what it means today.
“Moderate Republicans today are chicken feed compared to the types of moderates we were back in the day,” boasted Ballenger, a prime sponsor of the Equal Rights Amendment. “The things I voted for today would make today’s Republicans’ hair stand on end.”
And for his journey to Detroit, he made it! His journey took him through Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Jackson, Pontiac, and numerous other points. By the time he got to the Detroit River in August, the locals warned him against jumping into the river out of fear he’d get sucked into an undertow.
“I decided, well, if I’m sucked into the river, I’m sucked into the river,” he said. “I promised that I was going to dive into the river and that’s what I was going to do. I had to do it. If that’s the last you saw of me, I’m going down fighting.”
Ballenger leaped into the river and bopped back up “like a cork.” After climbing the ladder against the sea wall out of the water, a TV news reporter rushed up and asked if he’d do it again. They had missed the event.
What did Bill do? What do you think?
Of course, he jumped in again.