Former Gov. Jim Blanchard shares stories and advice with PLS students

September 23, 2021 - Karessa Weir

Former Michigan Gov. Jim Blanchard sat down with 11 MSU Political Science students recently to discuss his history, current politics and how vastly different Michigan’s political landscape is today.

Blanchard graduated with a degree in social science from MSU in 1964. He shared the most vivid college memory was being in a political science class when the professor announced that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. Class was cancelled and Blanchard ran back to his fraternity house to watch television.

“That was the saddest day of my life,” Blanchard said. “It was also what motivated a lot of us to go into public service. I was 21 that day and he was 46 but he seemed like an older brother had died.”

Blanchard went on to earn a law degree and was elected to Congress in 1974. He served as Michigan’s governor from 1982-1988. Afterward he was appointed Ambassador to Canada which he called his “most fun job.”

But the world has changed drastically since his college days and most significantly after 2020, Blanchard said.

“The virus, Trumpism, the deep divide in this country,” he said. “This is the most unusual time we’ve ever had. I’ve never seen anything like this. I don’t think any of us can give you any great advice on how to deal with it. We are all dealing with it too.”

When Blanchard was first running for Congress, he received fundraising help from a young U.S. senator from Delaware. In October 1974, Joe Biden flew to Michigan and gave a speech for Blanchard in Huntington Woods.

“We became fast friends and 46 years later he was elected President,” Blanchard said. “He is the man for the moment. No other candidate could have won Michigan and Trump would have been re-elected.’”

The most important issue on Biden’s plate is getting COVID under control, Biden said. He also needs to address climate change, poverty and income disparity as well as criminal justice.

Blanchard also spoke of his friendship with Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and praised her time in office so far. But he warned that she may have a tough time in a re-election campaign.

“She’s good and we are lucky to have her,” he said.

The biggest problem facing Democrats in Michigan is the extreme poverty in rural sections of the state where voters feel neglected, forgotten and left behind, Blanchard said.

“They feel like politics favors minorities – women and immigrants – over them,” he said. “The white, rural voter feels entitled to be resentful.”

In the audience were five Political Science undergraduate majors and five Masters of Public Policy students.  Blanchard’s advice to the students was simple – get as much experience as you can.

“Learn all you can. Read history. Work on campaigns. Join the Foreign Service or the Peace Corps,” he said. “Do these things now while you are young.”

Blanchard has worked with the College of Social Science to establish the MSU Governor Jim Blanchard Public Service Forum which brings internationally acclaimed speakers such as President Bill Clinton, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, U.S. Rep. John Lewis and journalist Cokie Roberts. The next forum is scheduled for Monday Nov. 8 and will feature U.S. House of Representatives Majority Whip James E. Clyburn of South Carolina. The event will take place in the Pasant Theater at the Wharton Center. Tickets are $5 for students and $25 for general public. Registration will open soon.