James J. Blanchard Papers

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James J. Blanchard Papers

The materials in this online repository form part of a larger James J. Blanchard manuscript collection held by the Bentley Historical Library. For a more complete index to the materials, please consult the online finding aid.

For questions or more information, please contact the Bentley Historical Library's Division of Reference and Access Services

Democratic governor of Michigan from 1983 to 1991. This online collection includes digitized sound recordings produced from analog materials held by the Bentley Historical Library.

James J. Blanchard, the first Democratic governor of Michigan in twenty years, won the 1982 gubernatorial election over Richard Headlee with a plurality of less than 200,000 out of three million votes cast. When Blanchard took office, the state faced its gravest economic challenges since the depression: slumping auto sales pushed unemployment over 17%, while diminishing the state's tax base; a $1.7 billion deficit loomed and finances were further straitened when the state's credit rating was downgraded; outmigration of educated and skilled workers threatened the human capital of Michigan. Working with his cabinet, public and private sector leaders, and members of the legislature, Blanchard righted Michigan's finances, upgraded the state's credit rating, and launched an aggressive economic development program to diversify Michigan's economy and provide jobs for its citizens.

Among the recovery programs set in motion by Blanchard were: the establishment of the Michigan Youth Corps, a program which created 40,000 jobs for young people; installing a public works project which provided 50,000 jobs dedicated to improving the state's infrastructure; the formation of the Governor's Commission on Jobs and Economic Development, a coalition of business, labor, education, and government leaders; adoption of a zero-growth state budget and an unpopular temporary income tax increase; and development of an aggressive plan to protect the environment, especially the Great Lakes. By 1985, the state had turned the corner on the worst of its economic problems, achieving solvency by November and consequently having Michigan's credit upgraded to the best among American states. The Blanchard administration credited its own efforts for spurring this economic recovery.

Blanchard campaigned in 1986 on the theme, "Michigan, the Comeback State." He easily defeated challenger, William Lucas, winning over 68% over the votes cast. Backed by this mandate, Blanchard embarked on a more ambitious agenda of reform. This broader program included, but was by no means limited to: strengthening the state's finances, innovation and integrity in public policy, improving education, preserving the right of choice for women, protecting children and families, and being tough on criminals. The Michigan Strategic Fund is an apt example of innovative policy designed to provide capital for small businesses and to diversify the state economy. Education was a top priority for Blanchard, and his second term saw the development of a broad array of education initiatives: the Michigan Education Trust, a state-supported guaranteed tuition program; the Research Excellence Fund, state-financed research in new technologies; the Michigan Model Health Curriculum, an ambitious effort to educate all students on good health habits; and the Michigan Opportunity Card, a surety of competence offered by the Cabinet Council on Human Investment. Michigan hosted several conferences on environmental issues as it attended to preventive and palliative measures to preserve the region's ecology. Blanchard created the post of Citizens' Protection Advisor to secure Michiganders' rights. All these efforts reveal the activist bent of the Blanchard administration.

Blanchard came to the office of governor at a propitious moment, a time when states were taking up responsibilities shunted by the federal government. Reagan's New Federalism accelerated the shifting of powers and duties to state and local agencies, a trend initiated by Nixon's revenue sharing. Blanchard brought an apt philosophy to this situation. Blanchard described himself as, "of the new breed of governors: innovative, flexible, global in outlook and unafraid to challenge the staus quo." These attributes served him well in meeting the needs of the Michigan citizenry and economy. His administration was pragmatic, fiscally conservative, and acted within the parameters of the possible. Blanchard shunned adherence to ideology, save the ideal that governments can, and should, act to benefit people. These traits were apparent in his administrative legacy.

Immediately before winning his first gubernatorial term in the 1982 election, Blanchard served in the United States Congress for four terms representing several Detroit suburbs. While in Congress, he won acclaim for his work in shaping the Chrysler Loan Guarantee Act, an act which saved thousands of Michigan jobs. Blanchard's service to the people of Michigan began in 1968 as legal advisor to the Michigan Secretary of State. In 1969, he became an Assistant Attorney General and served in that capacity for five years before being elected to Congress.

James Blanchard was born in Detroit on August 8, 1942. He earned a B.A. and M.B.A. from Michigan State University and a law degree from the University of Minnesota. Blanchard married Paula Parker in June 1966; they had one son, Jay, in 1971. The Blanchards were divorced in 1987. James Blanchard married Janet Fox in the fall of 1989. After failing to win a third term as governor, Blanchard repaired to a private legal practice. He served as ambassador to Canada in the Clinton administration and ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic primary for governor in 2002.

Please note:

Copyright is held by the Regents of the University of Michigan.

Access to digitized sound recordings may be limited to the reading room of the Bentley Historical Library, located on the Ann Arbor campus of the University of Michigan.

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