John Engler Papers

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John Engler Papers

The materials in this online repository form part of a larger John Engler 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

Republican member of the Michigan state legislature (House and Senate, 1971-1990); governor of Michigan (1991-2003); active member of the Republican Governors' Association and the National Governors' Association. This online collection includes digitized sound recordings produced from analog materials held by the Bentley Historical Library.

When John Engler became Michigan's governor in 1991, he brought with him a classically conservative vision of a smaller, more efficient government, and of a state where taxes were lower, individual initiative was rewarded and business and opportunity could thrive. As Michigan's governor during the boom years of the 1990's, Engler led the state during a period of uncommon prosperity between 1991 and 2002. At the beginning of his tenure, however, Michigan's economy was less than ideal.

After defeating incumbent James Blanchard in 1990 in an upset election, Engler inherited a $1.8 billion deficit. He embarked on an effort to cut spending and taxes, and reorganized the government. His first term spending cuts were painful and controversial, and included cuts in welfare for childless adults, state mental-health facilities, and arts programs. In the aftermath, Engler was widely viewed as a cold-hearted bureaucrat who was more concerned with balancing budgets than with the pain and suffering of poor people. But as it turned out, Michigan was on the vanguard of a national movement to change welfare, putting more focus on work. By the time Engler sought re-election in 1994, none of the three Democrats seeking the nomination proposed a return to the General Assistance Program.

In his effort to achieve greater efficiency in state government, Engler presided over the most dramatic restructuring of state government in a generation. He eliminated entire departments and abolished dozens of boards and commissions. He pushed the power of the Executive Branch to the fullest extent permitted by the Michigan Constitution to implement his reorganizations.

In 1995 Engler split the Michigan Department of Natural Resources into a parks and recreation-oriented DNR, and a new Department of Environmental Quality, charged with monitoring pollution and public health. The changes were controversial because critics claimed they interfered with citizen oversight.

He also created the Michigan Jobs Commission and later, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. With an aggressive business attraction strategy and a locally driven job training system, Michigan managed to attract many new job-creating businesses. In fact, Michigan earned the prestigious "Governor's Cup" -- representing the nation's number one state for new factories and expansion projects -- a record-setting four years in a row (1997-2000).

But education reform was Engler's top priority. He led the campaign to win citizen approval for Proposal A -- a 1994 ballot initiative that radically changed the way Michigan's public schools are funded. By loosening the connection between local property taxes and school funding, he aimed to make per-student funding more fair. And even though Proposal A slashed homeowners local property school tax rates by an average of 45%, school spending grew during Engler's tenure, from about $8 billion annually to nearly $12 billion--benefiting from booming tax revenues during the bountiful 1990's.

Engler also championed school choice, charter schools and more competition as part of his plan to help Michigan schools improve. His administration focused on high standards, more accountability, tough tests, improved safety and more discipline to help Michigan's students learn better.

Engler also saw the power of technology to create jobs and better people's lives. As the first governor to have a website, he pushed for increased availability of high-speed broadband Internet, and supported the creation of the nation's first on-line cybercourts. He also introduced a program to distribute laptop computers to more than 88,000 K-12 teachers statewide.

Engler was Chairman of the Republican Governors' Association in 1996 and of the National Governor's Association July 2001 to July 2002. He was a member of the Advisory Board of the Republican National Leadership Council and was considered a top-seeded candidate for Bob Dole's Vice Presidential running-mate in 1996.

John Engler was born October 12, 1948, the oldest of Mathias and Agnes Engler's seven children. His parents raised cattle on 900 acres near Beal City, Michigan and John majored in agricultural economics at Michigan State University. As a class project for a political science class, Engler wrote a paper outlining his strategy for winning a Republican primary against an incumbent for a seat in the state legislature. In 1970, before graduating, he enlisted the help of his friend, sophomore Dick Posthumus, and put his plan into action. He won the primary, and the general election to become, at age 22, the youngest Michigan legislator. Indeed, in his thirty-year political career, John Engler never lost an election.

The Republicans were the minority party in the Michigan House when Engler set out in 1971, although Republican William Milliken controlled the governor's office. Engler served eight years in the House and twelve years in the Michigan Senate, rising to become Senate Majority Leader in 1984 after leading an intense effort to tip the balance toward the GOP. While serving in the legislature, Engler attended law school part-time and received his degree from Thomas Cooley Law School in 1981.

He married fellow lawmaker Colleen House in 1975, though they divorced in 1986. He wed again to attorney Michelle DeMunbrun in 1990. They are the parents of triplet daughters, Margaret, Hannah and Madeleine, born November 13, 1994, just days after his reelection to a second gubernatorial term.

Please note:

Copyright has been transferred the Regents of the University of Michigan as of January 11, 2010.

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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