Ex-governors make joint appearance

LIVONIA, MI – Former Governors James Blanchard and John Engler were once political adversaries. But agreed far more than they disagreed in an unusual joint appearance Thursday to help raise money to train future political leaders.


This was the first time the ex-governors shared a stage since they debated each other during the 1990 election. The event was a fundraiser for the Michigan Political Leadership Program, which helps train aspiring public servants.

But Blanchard - a Democrat -- and Engler - a Republican -- both appeared to lay to rest rumors they might be interested in some future office. Engler was asked if he would consider a U-S Senate run in two years. He pointed out his triplet daughters are now teenagers.

"We have a house full of drama," Engler said. "I think of what I could do to add to that drama. That question outlines one way I could ramp it up a bit, but I've got a lot of work to do."

That work is serving as president of the National Association of Manufacturers in Washington DC. Blanchard is an attorney who divides his practice between Washington and Michigan.

The two were often bitter rivals in the state Capitol when Blanchard was governor and Engler was the state Senate Majority Leader, and then the Republican candidate who unseated him.

But this time, there were few sparks as they mostly agreed it's not their place to pass judgment on Governor Granholm's job performance, that term limits have failed, and holding a convention to rewrite the state constitution is a bad idea.

The pair is particularly critical of term limits and their effect on the Legislature. Engler served 20 years in the Legislature before he was elected governor. And he says lawmakers don't have time to learn the details of Medicaid, transportation and school funding, or corrections policy.

"These are complex problems and I'm just not sure that you have the expertise now and the experience to make a difference and when you've got, I think, relative inexperience in the executive office and relative inexperience in the legislative body, you get not a great result," Engler said.

Blanchard says the Legislature was a more formidable institution when he served as governor in the 1980s.

"You know, I used to joke about the Legislature when I was governor, to my peril, I might add." Blanchard said. "But the fact is we had people there who were really invested in departments and programs and issues that knew a lot."

Blanchard says term-limited lawmakers start looking too quickly for their next jobs.

"They're immediately worried about what they're going to run for when their terms are up in six years and they immediately start raising money and eyeballing each other as rivals for some other office," Blanchard said. "They're not in Lansing long enough to build up relationships and trust, and the expertise that Governor Engler mentioned."

Both also say they're opposed to convening a convention to rewrite the 1963 state constitution next year. Governor Granholm says Michigan's governmental structure is so outdated, she wants voters to support a question on the November ballot to call a convention.

Blanchard says a convention would serve as a platform for -quote- "kooks and cranks."

"It's a modern constitution.. It's been effective. I don't think we have to rewrite it," Blanchard says.

Engler says a convention would be a waste of time and money.

The two also endorsed adding another international bridge connecting Detroit and Canada. Blanchard, a former US ambassador to Canada, says the Legislature needs to authorize the new span by early June to create thousands of jobs and spur cross-border trade. The private owner of the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit is vigorously opposing the project.

The former governors have another joint appearance planned -- a breakfast fundraiser Friday in Grand Rapids for the Michigan Political Leadership Program.