(Editor's note: This commentary appeared as the "President's Message" in the Summer 2009 issue of Impact, the Mackinac Center's quarterly newsletter.)
There is precious little to praise in the legislative world these days. So it's my particular delight to publicly commend one lawmaker for mustering the backbone to admit a mistake, pledge to correct it and model a genuine apology.
The lawmaker is State Rep. Tom McMillin of Rochester Hills and his mistake was supporting the "Michigan Legislative Funeral Act." That bill, introduced in February, would require state police officers to escort funeral processions of former or current lawmakers at the request of families of the deceased. Taxpayers would also pick up the tab for official state flags requested by families.
We described the Funeral Act at our MichiganVotes.org Web site and sent a brief analysis to 17,000 recipients of Michigan Capitol Confidential, our free legislative newspaper. We named the bill's 18 co-sponsors, which include 13 Democrats and McMillin among the five Republicans. That's when citizens' complaints started reaching lawmakers.
Jim Reb of Auburn Hills wrote McMillin, expressing concern over wasteful spending and describing the bill as an "embarrassing piece of self aggrandizement." To Reb, the bill "conjure[d] up certain words such as: entitlement, ego, mental acuity, economic disconnect, lack of empathy and reality check."
McMillin heard other complaints. Some echoed the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance, whose leader earlier had questioned "whether these politicians will also require military aircraft to perform the missing man formation as an aerial flyover salute at their funerals." Around the same time, Gov. Jennifer Granholm proposed laying off 100 state troopers to help correct the state's overspending.
McMillin felt pangs of regret and asked the Mackinac Center to publish the following mea culpa in the next issue of Capitol Confidential. We obliged.
I'd like to apologize for co-sponsoring HB 4229, the state police funeral escort for legislators bill. I don't think it would be helpful to try to speculate what I was thinking in co-sponsoring the bill, because it might seem to try to give excuse for something inexcusable. If this bill comes to the floor for a vote, I will vote against it, encourage my colleagues to vote against it and remove my name as a co-sponsor (which can only be done after passage). I'm very glad there are watchdogs informing citizens what is going on in Lansing.
Rep. Tom McMillin
There you have a succinct, explicit, no-excuses apology from a politician, a phenomenon rarer than hens' teeth. His sin was pretty minor, but his apology contrasts no less favorably to the rambling non-apologies or outright denials we hear from politicians caught in greater transgressions. We don't hitch our wagon to McMillin's star or that of any elected official; however, we will praise those who exhibit courage and humility in pursuit of sound policy.
Everybody makes mistakes, but not everybody acknowledges them and even fewer apologize for them. Tom McMillin should be admired for having the guts to admit he was wrong and the decency to say he was sorry to the people he was elected to serve.
Joseph G. Lehman is president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center are properly cited.