Bill Bullard, Jr. (1943-2020)


U-M alumnus navigated shifting political winds

By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

A staunch Republican, Bill Bullard Jr. once rubbed journalistic elbows with a fellow University of Michigan student whose political leanings were described by some pundits as “left of Marx and Lenin.”

Bullard, an attorney and chairman of the Oakland County Board of Commissioners from 2005-11, broke bread at The Michigan Daily in the mid-‘60s with Tom Hayden, one of the foremost student political activists of his generation who was a co-founder of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and gained fame as a member of the “Chicago Seven” arrested at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in the Windy City.

Hayden, who would later marry actress Jane Fonda, served as editor of The Daily during a U-M time when Bullard was cutting his teeth as sports editor of the student-run publication. While they shared an interest in the value of the fourth estate, Bullard and Hayden seemingly were never destined to travel along the same political path.

“Our only link was that we both worked at The Daily,” Bullard said of his former newspaper compatriot. “Fortunately, that’s where the comparisons end.”

The anecdotal story was a Bullard favorite, one that he enjoyed sharing with friends on both sides of the political aisle. A willingness to reach out to his political opponents in search of compromise was a Bullard trademark, one indelibly etched in his legacy following his death December 18 from complications of COVID-19 and cancer, according to friends and former colleagues. He was 77.

A native of Detroit, Bullard grew up in a predominantly Republican household. His late father, Willis Sr., was a corporate attorney in Detroit and was active in local GOP politics. His late mother, Virginia, was another story.

“She was a Democrat, but I still dearly loved her,” Bullard said during an interview with The Legal News several years ago, noting his mother strongly encouraged his interest in public service.

“I’ve been interested in politics since I was very young,” Bullard said in the interview. “I can remember watching Dwight Eisenhower at the Republican Convention when I was 9 years old and being fascinated by the political process. My dad was active in local Republican politics and was a supporter of Robert Griffin (former Congressman, U.S. Senator, and Michigan Supreme Court Justice). It’s been in my blood.”

Bullard was elected a Highland Township trustee in 1978, serving a two-year term as supervisor from 1980-82.

In the fall of ’82, he was elected to the Michigan House of Representatives, earning re-election six times and serving as Assistant House Republican Floor Leader from 1985-90.

His service in Lansing then shifted to the State Senate in June 1996 when Bullard won a special election to fill a vacancy created by a resignation. He was re-elected to the State Senate in 1998, serving a four-year term in office.

As chair of the House Taxation Committee in 1993, Bullard was instrumental in helping shape the “property tax cut/school finance proposal, which later became known as Proposal A.” As a legislator, he sponsored more than 170 bills that eventually became law, including Public Act 232 of 2001, which created two new circuit court judgeships for Oakland County, and the repeal of the Michigan Inheritance Tax (Public Act 54 of 1993).

In 1998, Bullard was one of three state senators rated “Most Conservative” by Inside Michigan Politics based on the 1998 roll call votes. He wore his fiscal conservatism as a badge of honor.

In January 2011, Bullard was appointed county clerk and register of deeds, succeeding Ruth Johnson, who had been elected as Michigan’s Secretary of State. During his time as clerk, Bullard took pride in helping implement various technology initiatives, including e-filing and e-recording.

A 1965 graduate of the U-M, Bullard once considered pursuing a career in journalism, working for several years with The Ann Arbor News, helping with layout responsibilities for the paper’s sports department. He joined the newspaper as a stringer, covering Wolverine football practices leading up to the 1965 Rose Bowl against Oregon State, a game Michigan won handily 34-7.

“The newspaper business taught me a lot about writing and writing under deadline pressure,” Bullard said in The Legal News interview. “I’ve always been a big sports fan, so I really enjoyed covering the football and hockey games. But I finally decided that my future was in the law.”

He enrolled in night classes at the former Detroit College of Law, eventually earning his juris doctor in 1971.

He joined his father’s firm in Detroit later that year and once considered taking a job with the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office before deciding to gain his legal experience in the private sector.

Following his career in public service, Bullard returned to a private law practice that specialized in domestic relations work along with estate planning.

He also was a registered lobbyist, noting that “as a legislator, I was lobbied for 20 years and now I’m returning the favor.”


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