www.mybaycity.com December 12, 2004
Rotary Article 644

Jim Griffiths to Recall Transition to Women in Rotary, Their Contributions

Milt Higgs Reveals the Inside Story of Michigan's 1963 State Constitution

December 12, 2004
By: Dave Rogers

The Breezes -- The Official OnLine Publication of the Bay City, Michigan Noon Rotary
Attorney Milt Higgs gets help from his daughter, Holly Gatza, during his presentation on the 1963 Michigan Constitutional Convention.

This week's program: Jim Griffiths on Women in Rotary. Programmer is Mike Stoner.

Former member Jim Griffiths, now a state education official in Lansing, returns for a guest appearance to recall momentous days in the Bay City Rotary Club. Last week's program: Milt Higgs, Inside Michigan's 1963 Constitution.

      A cumbersome structure of government was simplified and environmental protection was strengthened as the law of the land as a result of the 1963 Michigan Constitutional Convention, according to a first-hand report last week at Rotary from Milt Higgs, delegate from Bay County.

      Mr. Higgs was a young lawyer in Bay City when he defeated six other candidates to win the Republican nomination andtopped the Democratic candidate Jim Tanner by a 2-1 ratio in a run-off for the delegate of the State Representative District. Former Bay County circuit judge Karl K. Leibrand, another Republican, was the delegate from the 24th State Senatorial District.

      The state still operates under the constitutional document so carefully crafted by Mr. Higgs, Judge Leibrand and other 143 delegates over seven and a half months of daily meetings at the Lansing Civic Center.

      "The structure of the state was cumbersome and complicated by virtue of many amendments to the 1908 Constitution," Mr. Higgs told Rotarians. "The executive branch had 126 often overlapping agencies; that was reduced to a more manageable 20."

      No less than 18 studies had shown a need for revision of the old Constitution, said Mr. Higgs. As the state evolved from the old rural-agrarian society to the urban-industrial age, several organizations including the League of Women Voters and Citizens for Michigan, headed by George Romney, president of American Motors Corp., led the charge for reform.

      On April 3, 1961 voters in four counties, Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw, overwhelmed negative votes in the other 79 counties, including Bay, and approved the call for the Constitutional Convention.

      Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower opened the Convention in December, 1961, with a speech declaring his faith in the people to solve their own problems. Ike called on Michigan to lead the way for other states in reversing the trend to shift responsibilities to the federal government. Ike selected a question posed by Mr. Higgs to answer regarding the need for restraint by the President in the exercise of federal power.

      "Hewas not as large and imposing a man as I had imaged he would be," recalled Mr. Higgs.

      The old Justice of the Peace system, a particular concern of Mr. Higgs, was thrown out and replaced by the present District Court system. As a member of the Judiciary and Style and Drafting Committees Mr. Higgs was in a position to propose the elimination of J-Ps. "If I hadn't have done anything there wouldn't have been a District Court," he asserted.

      He earned headlines in the Detroit newspapers for his proposal to sanction probate judges for lobbying to preserve their powers in juvenile matters "in contravention of the rules of the convention."

      The new Constitution strengthened the powers of the governor, balanced budgets and public approval of borrowing were required and the graduated income tax was prohibited. The Constitution of 1963 included a mandate directing the Legislature to protect the air, water and other natural resources from pollution, impairment and destruction. Since then voters have consistently approved bond issues for the prevention and abatement of water pollution, for public recreation, state parks and other issues supporting preservation of natural resources.

      Other Con-Con delegates included businessmen Steven Nisbet and Dan Karn, college presidents John Hannah of Michigan State and Charles Anspach of Central Michigan, academic James K. Pollock of Ann Arbor and Coleman Young, later Mayor of Detroit. The delegates have had reunions every two years until recently as their numbers have decreased, said Mr. Higgs.###

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