Former State Senator Jack Welborn Dead at 88
Former State Senator Jack Welborn, a longtime conservative leader in Michigan politics has died. He was 88. Wellborn who was well known for his anti-tax, smaller government, and pro-life stands died overnight Sunday, March 7, 2021, at the home he built at the family farm on Riverview Drive north of Parchment. He was recently diagnosed with kidney failure and declined dialysis treatment. Many thought of Welborn as a Reagan Conservative, before Reagan was one.
The Cooper Township dairy farmer first entered politics in 1966 when he was elected Cooper Township Supervisor, unseating long-time incumbent Willard Doster. The story goes that the entrenched incumbent, Doster, was so mad about losing that he piled all of the township's official documents in a big stack in the middle of the room, leaving Welborn to sort it all out. And sort things out he did.
Welborn mounted a legal challenge against the State of Michigan over the taxation of township residents and developed a reputation as a strong advocate of fair taxes and less government. Cooper Township fought long and hard, and ultimately won the suit, and several state reforms were enacted as a result. The attorney in the case, Richard Reed, recalled that later when Welborn was elected to the legislature, he was able to pass legislation to create the Michigan Tax Tribunal. Reed said Michigan was one of the first states to enact such reforms, to ensure that an independent body would review municipal tax issues. Until then, and in the early 1970's case, Reed characterized the State Tax Commission review of cases as something like the fox guarding the henhouse. Reed said that Welborn was "very knowledgeable and had good ideas, but didn't try to run the case. He was fearless and honest."
In 1972, Welborn was elected to the State House of Representatives, and later to the State Senate, where he served from 1974 to 1982. He left the Senate to stage an unsuccessful bid for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, and then returned to the Senate when his brother, State Senator Bob Welborn died of cancer in 1985. Welborn served in the State Senate until 1994.
Here's a card that Welborn handed out to voters in one of his re-election campaigns.
Former 63rd State Rep. Jerry Vander Roest knew Welborn for more than 50 years and even served as his chief of staff in Lansing for a few months, before getting elected to the State House. “Jack was strong in his convictions and principles and everyone knew they could take him at his word.” Vander Roest said that he was respected on both sides of the aisle, and he would always listen to what others had to say.
Vander Roest recalled Welborn’s retirement from the State Senate. “Almost every Democratic senator got up and spoke highly of him. At that time no one was harder on the Democratic Party than Jack. That was such a great compliment that the people that were viewed as his political enemies spoke so highly of him.”
Vander Roest’s son Jeff said Welborn reminded him of Donald Trump, in that he wasn’t afraid to stand up for what he believed. “When the Kalamazoo Gazette was attacking Jack back in the 80s, Jack paid for a full-page ad in the Gazette to show how the paper had supported slavery during the beginning of the Civil war.”
Dave Culver knew Welborn from the early 50’s when both were in 4-H and Future Farmers of America. “Jack was as honest as a man could be,” remembered Culver. “He had great people skills, probably because he had great empathy for people.”
Culver’s wife Carole was appointed Cooper Township Clerk by supervisor Welborn in 1970 and served as an elected official for 30 years. “The Amish people in Michigan adored Jack,” said Culver. “He went to bat for them in the legislature over freedom of religion issues that were related to homeschooling, and exemptions for worker’s comp and other things. He also helped lead the effort, along with Dr. Clarence M. Schrier and others to save the historic Kalamazoo Psychiatric Hospital Water Tower from the wrecking ball in 1974.”
Vander Roest said Welborn was a key player in bringing about Proposal A, which eliminated property taxes as a mechanism to pay for schools in 1994. Governor Engler had proposed a 20% property tax cut, but State Senator Debbie Stabenow, who was planning a run for governor, proposed a 100% property tax cut. Some said she was trying to show how silly she thought it was to cut taxes without specifying new revenues for the schools. Vander Roest said Welborn seized the moment. “He said, 'I’m going to call their bluff'. He went to the legislative leaders and said, 'I’m going with them'. And the next thing you know, the amended bill passed.” Voters passed it the following March.
Vander Roest said Welborn had a lot to do with getting the Asylum Lake property transferred to became a park. And then years later when WMU wanted to turn it into industrial property, he fought to preserve at least a portion of it.
Jack Welborn was one of the most conservative lawmakers during the time he served in Lansing but somehow managed to work with some of the most liberal. “Ann Arbor State Rep. Perry Bullard was one of the most liberal members of the house,” said Vander Roest. “Bullard was the first person to push for marijuana decriminalization. But he and Jack worked side by side to come up with a crime package, and many of those bills passed.”
After retiring from politics, Welborn and his wife ran an antique business. He is survived by his wife of 68 years, Dorothy, children Kayla, John, and Kami, several grand children and great-grandchildren. Services will be private, but public visitation will be held on Wedneday, March 10th, 2021 from 2:00 PM-4:00 PM at the Parchment Redmond Funeral Home, 2300 East "G" Avenue, in Parchment.