EAST LANSING, MICH. - As former Gov. John Engler takes over as interim president at his alma mater, the veteran ex-lawmaker says investigations into disgraced MSU sports doctor Larry Nassar should not become politicized.
“We don’t know if survivors are republicans, democrats, independents, none of the above,’’ Engler told reporters on Wednesday. “We know that they are people who were victimized and they were hurt. That’s who we need to keep the focus on.’’
Engler was tapped to replace Lou Anna Simon, who resigned last week as president of Michigan State University following Nassar’s sentencing for molesting girls and women while working as a sports doctor. He was sentenced in Ingham County to between 40 and 175 years in prison; another sentencing hearing is underway in Eaton County.
"This is not the time to be political," said Engler, who spent more than three decades in Michigan politics before starting a second career as a lobbyist.
Raised on a cattle farm near Beal City, Engler, now 69, has remained largely out of the spotlight since leaving the governor’s office more than 15 years ago.
In 1990, Engler was cast in the national spotlight when he defeated incumbent James Blanchard to become Michigan's 46th governor. Engler and his former political rival have both assumed leadership roles at their deeply fractured alma mater. Blanchard, 75, will serve as a senior advisor to work with government relations and legal affairs.
Engler was an agricultural economics major at MSU when, in 1970, he was elected to the state House. He was just 22 years old.
Engler stayed in Lansing for more than three decades and earned his law degree there. He served three terms as governor but could not seek reelection in 2002 because of term limits.
He found success working as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C.
Engler's post-political life includes directing business groups in Washington, D.C. He serves as a board member at Universal Forest Products, a West Michigan company once led by prominent MSU benefactor Peter Secchia.
As he returns to his alma mater, Engler says rebuilding trust is vital as MSU tries to move beyond the Nassar scandal.
“You’ve got people who are survivors who’ve been lied to for 20 years,’’ Engler said. “Do you think they trust anybody? I know if it were my daughter, I can’t even tell you what the reaction would be.
"How do we make sure the next young woman, the next young man, doesn’t get victimized?’’ he asked. “I think that’s the test.’’
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