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The many inaugurations of George Romney

(Gov. George Romney)

MARQUETTE – Marquette. Early February 1967.

Michigan’s Republican Governor, 59-year-old George Romney (the father of the current senator and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney), was about to get inaugurated for the seventh time — in four years!

How was this possible?

When Romney was first elected governor in 1962, he ended 14 years of Democratic administrations. In 1964, he broke with, and did not support, the party’s presidential candidate, arch-conservative Barry Goldwater. Their primary disagreements were over civil rights issues. In the electoral slaughter that November, which left only 17 governorships in Republican hands, Romney was reelected by nearly 400,000 votes. He was reelected again in 1966 by over a half a million votes, including 30% of the black vote, and emerged as the standard bearer of moderate Republicanism. Indeed, in late November, a poll pitting him against President Johnson showed Romney 54%, Johnson 46%. To those who favored him in the press he was “Mr. Square Shooter.”

At a campaign stop at the Escanaba airport in the fall of 1962 he had pledged that, if elected, he would return to the city for a second inauguration. He was sworn in in Lansing on Jan. 1, 1963. And in late February, he returned to Escanaba, where the theme of the inaugural was “Pulling Michigan Together.” He said he was “…determined to erase an imaginary Mason-Dixon Line which has relegated Upper Peninsula residents to what they termed the status of Michigan’s ‘forgotten citizens.'” It was the first inauguration north of the straits in the state’s 126-year history.

Since the governor’s term of office was two years, Romney took the oath again in Lansing on Jan. 1, 1965. He was back in the U.P., in Iron Mountain, in mid-March, for his second inauguration that year. His primary concern was still the peninsula’s struggling economy.

He began his third term in an unusual way. Jan. 1, 1967 was a Sunday, so the Governor took the oath privately in his home. The next day was the public ceremony in Lansing. Prior to the U.P. inauguration he flew to Madison, Wisconsin, to speak with their governor, who chaired the Upper Great Lakes Economic Development Commission, which had been established to study ways to help the region’s slow economies.

The 1967 U.P. inauguration was sponsored by the Marquette Chamber of Commerce. Those in charge of different events included Marquette’s Patrick Lowney, Ben Myler, Sally Landstrom, Gary Dahlke, Robert Pearce, James Sullivan, Frederick Sabin, George Johnson, Ellwood Mattson, Robert Ling, Earl McIntyre, and Jack Rombouts; while Austin Lindberg hailed from Ishpeming.

When the governor arrived at the County Airport in Negaunee Township on Saturday morning, Feb. 3, for his seventh inauguration, he was indeed flying high. Not only was he the likely Republican presidential candidate for ’68, but, as the Vietnam War dragged on, disturbances rocked campuses, and summer urban rioting spread, President Johnson was looking increasingly vulnerable.

There were snow flurries and the temperature was hovering around 10 degrees at the airport when Mayor Robert Moore presented the governor with the key to the city. The party’s first stop was to dedicate the new No. 4 unit of the U.P. Generating Company’s Presque Isle Power Plant. Then it was off to Northern where 450 attended a luncheon in the University Center.

The procession over to Hedgcock Fieldhouse for the inauguration was led by the Ishpeming Blue Notes Drum and Bugle Corps. Along the way the smiling Governor signed autographs and playfully threw snowballs at the press. Most of the day’s events were covered on radio, and WNMU telecast the ceremony live. On a stage covered with red, white and blue curtains, and adorned with small evergreens, Romney, Lieutenant Governor William Milliken, Senator Robert Griffin, Representative Philip Ruppe, as well as other local politicians of both parties took oaths of office.

Musical accompaniment was provided by the Marquette Senior High School Band. A 19-gun salute was fired at the National Guard Armory and Northern’s President, Edgar Harden, declared “This will be remembered as one of the highlights in the long history of Northern Michigan University.”

Then it was back to the University Center for an open public reception, an appearance at a $50 per plate Republican fundraiser, the inauguration dinner, the grand march and finally the inauguration ball. And sometime during all this the governor managed to slip across the street to St. Michael’s Church for a private reception. Whew!

When interviewed, Romney said that the U.P. inauguration “was the beginning of a happy new tradition” and “that its purpose is not to set the Upper Peninsula apart from the rest of Michigan, but to reassert the fundamental unity of our state and its people.” And Marquette was declared state capitol — for the day.

Fast forward.

On Labor Day weekend, the busy politician made a quick stop at a Detroit TV station to appear on a local question and answer program. He was asked about his position on Vietnam. “You know when I came back from Vietnam, I just had the greatest brainwashing that anybody can get when you go to Vietnam … And since returning from Vietnam I’ve gone into the history of Vietnam all the way back to World War Two and before. And, as a result I have changed my mind…in that particular. I no longer believe it was necessary for us to get involved in South Vietnam to stop Communist aggression.”

In the subsequent media frenzy Romney’s popularity took a nose dive. In February 1968, just before the first Presidential primary in New Hampshire, he withdrew his candidacy for the Republican nomination. Shortly after, Governor Rhodes of Ohio spoke this famous epitaph about the campaign, “Watching George Romney run for the Presidency was like watching a duck try to make love to a football.”

To learn more about state and local politics, visit the MRHC’s new exhibit “Vote and Be Counted: Local Elections and the Census” which runs through June 6.

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