Former president to speak at Michigan State on Nov. 18

By Kurt Anthony Krug
Legal News

Former President Bill Clinton will be the keynote speaker at the first Gov. Jim Blanchard Public Service Forum at Michigan State University on Wednesday, Nov. 18.

In addition, Clinton is the first recipient of the Spartan Statesmanship Award for Distinguished Public Service. Both the forum and the award — meant to honor leaders in politics, diplomacy, public service, and journalism – were established in September by former Gov. James J. Blanchard and his wife Janet, who donated $1 million to MSU.

“I have been making major contributions to the athletic program — endowed scholarships in basketball and football – and to support the North End Zone (addition to Spartan Stadium). This year is (MSU’s) capital campaign and I wanted to do something on the academic side of things. Given the fact, this year-long capital campaign is going on, I thought it would be a good time to do that, while I’m young enough and energetic enough to enjoy it and work with it. So I came up with the idea of the public service forum and the Spartan statesmanship award as a way to highlight the (Department of Political Science), the College of Social Science, and bring prominent people to the campus to help energize students who want to consider a career in public service,” explained Blanchard, 73.

Clinton’s speech will begin at 5:30 p.m. in Big 10 Rooms A, B, and C of MSU’s Kellogg Center. MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon will give the welcoming remarks and Blanchard will introduce Clinton. After Clinton is finished speaking, the floor will be open for a Q & A with both Clinton and Blanchard. This will be a ticketed event. Students will not have to pay to attend since their tickets will be paid for by sponsors. The event is sold out, according to an MSU spokesman.

“It’s gonna be a great show, and I know Bill Clinton well enough that starting out with him will set the tone for a successful program and something noteworthy for my alma mater MSU,” said Blanchard.

The forum and the award will be administered by MSU’s Department of Political Science in the College of Social Science, providing generations of students with the opportunity to interact with and learn from national and international political leaders, diplomats, public servants, journalists, and authors. Those selected as recipients of the Spartan Statesmanship Award will be the featured speaker at the annual forum.

“When talking to the faculty and students, everyone said, ‘If you could get Bill Clinton to come here, that would be fabulous.’ When I was meeting with students, I went around the room and asked them who’d they like me to recruit to come in and speak. The most common name universally was Bill Clinton,” said Blanchard. “Some people mentioned President Barack Obama, but Clinton was universally suggested by students who were 19, 20 years old. I thought that was interesting because they were quite young when he was president. I do see the Clintons regularly at different events and talked to Bill about it.”

He continued: “We have a selection committee we’re in the process of forming… Those who are on the committee like (Charles W. Ostrom Jr., the chair of the Department of Political Science) — they all thought Clinton would be great. But the kids were the ones who suggested it. So I talked to Bill and he said he’d be happy to do it; it would just be a matter of working out with his schedule. It turned out he was willing to come in earlier than I thought… so we’re scrambling to get ready for it.”

Clinton is no stranger to MSU, visiting the campus five times in nine years. In fact, of all the Presidents, he has made the most trips to MSU. He first came in to campus in 1992, participating in two debates. The first was an “empty chair” debate in the area near the Beaumont Tower on Sept. 22, 1992. The second was on Oct. 19, 1992 at MSU’s Wharton Center, where he engaged in a debate with political opponents President George H.W. Bush and H. Ross Perot, which was the last of the three national debates and was televised worldwide.

He returned to campus on May 5, 1995 to deliver the commencement speech at Spartan Stadium to a crowd of more than 60,000. Clinton was the first sitting president to speak at an MSU commencement since President Theodore Roosevelt in 1907.
“When I was Ambassador (to Canada), I arranged for Bill Clinton to be commencement speaker back in 1995,” said Blanchard.

In 1996, Clinton made a brief train stop at MSU during his re-election campaign while en route to the Democratic convention in Chicago. His last visit to MSU was at the Breslin Center on Jan. 9, 2001 to belatedly honor MSU’s 2000 NCAA championship basketball team. He also reviewed the economic achievements of his administration, speaking to a crowd of 11,500.

Additionally, Clinton gave a speech on education at a town hall meeting at Lansing Community College in 1997.

“If Wharton or Breslin were available, we would do it there so we can pack in more people, but we’re going to have a good event nonetheless. I’m excited about it and want to make sure lots of students are involved,” said Blanchard.

Born in Detroit, Blanchard grew up in Ferndale. He earned his undergraduate degree in social science in 1964 and his MBA in 1965 — both from MSU. In 1968, he graduated with his juris doctorate from the University of Minnesota Law School and was admitted to the Michigan bar later that year. From 1969-74, he was Assistant Attorney General of Michigan. He represented Michigan’s 18th District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1975-83, serving four terms.

Blanchard served as the 45th governor of Michigan from 1983-91, serving two terms. In fact, he was the first MSU alumnus to ever serve as governor. When Blanchard first took office, Michigan faced a $1.7 billion deficit, the threat of bankruptcy, record high unemployment, and the worst credit rating in the United States. Working with leaders of business, labor, education and local government, he put together a successful strategy for the state’s future. Under his leadership, Michigan created 650,000 new jobs, the Michigan Education Trust and the state’s first Office of the Great Lakes. Newsweek credited him with leading “one of the most dramatic economic turnabouts in the recent history of state government.”

After leaving office, Blanchard served as U.S. Ambassador to Canada from 1993-96 during Clinton’s presidency. His performance as ambassador was recognized by Secretary of State Warren Christopher who presented him with the Foreign Affairs Award for Public Service, making him one of only a handful of ambassadors to receive this prestigious award.

“I spend a lot of time at MSU doing different things. I’m involved with their Canadian Studies program. I’ve spoken to business classes. We have season tickets to football games. I go to a lot of different dinners up in East Lansing, so I guess you could say I’m a regular visitor to the campus as much as I was when I was governor,” said Blanchard. “Spartans have a history of public service. Three of us who were governor at the same time — Anthony S. Earl (who was governor of Wisconsin from 1983-87) and George Ariyoshi (who was governor of Hawaii from 1974-86) – were Spartans. We Spartans have a rich history of public service – both elected, appointed, and diplomatic.”


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