Stateline Story

America Under Fire: Engler of Michigan Reflects

On September 11, Michigan Gov. John Engler, ordered his statewide emergency management team into action as he has done many times before in his nearly 11 years in office. This time, it wasn't a natural disaster his police, health and military experts were dealing with. As he watched the terrorist attacks on television, he had no idea how his responsibilities were about to change.

In an email interview with Stateline.org, Engler talked about what life and governing have been like in recent weeks, for not only for him but his fellow Michigan citizens as well. As Chair of the National Governors Association, his responsibilities have also included acting as lead contact with the federal government on behalf of the governors.

Engler, now late in his third and last term and the longest-serving governor in the country, describes September 11th as "a watershed moment in American history" that fundamentally changed the way all Americans view their security.

"We now have a new perspective on things," he said, noting the "major changes" that Americans have seen in security at airports, government office buildings and even at big and small businesses. "The result will be a more aware populace and a more secure country," he said.

Engler, whose term ends in January 2003, says dealing with the possibility of more terrorist attacks has been made a lot easier because Michigan has had an anti-terrorism task force in place and operating since 1996.

"Because of that, we already have a good plan in place to deal with threats of terrorism," he said. "The Michigan legislature has also acted quickly to introduce legislation to toughen Michigan's laws dealing with terrorism. A new law that provides for new sanctions for threats that prove to be hoaxes went into effect last week."

As part of the anti-terrorism effort in Michigan, Engler said he and other public officials from the state police, health department, and National Guard are holding weekly public briefings to keep the citizenry informed.

The Michigan government has also turned to the Internet, he said, to help answer thousands of questions about terrorism, anthrax and other frequently raised concerns. The public can get answers at the state website.

"The people of Michigan are, like others in the country, very concerned about terrorism and its affect on our everyday lives," Engler said. "I'd say that people are not seeing themselves as more dependent on government. Rather, they are looking for state government to provide leadership and guidance during this tense time."