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The death of Robert Griffin, the former U.S. senator and state Supreme Court justice, was more than just the natural end of one man’s remarkable life.

It was the end of a remarkable era in Michigan’s history, when the Wolverine State not only defined postwar America, but her politicians led the national discourse on both sides of the political aisle.

Just how powerful Michigan was during Griffin’s time in public life became fully apparent as I sat in blond wooden pews, staring at the soldier, statesman and jurist’s flag-draped coffin lying gracefully underneath the church’s chancel arch and intensely listening to the eulogies given during a funeral Tuesday at First Congressional Church in Traverse City.

Griffin served with and alongside arguably the most prominent leaders of the postwar period. Soapy Williams, George Romney and Bill Milliken were national figures. All were touted at one point or another as possible presidential candidates.

In the U.S. Senate, Michigan had Democratic icon Philip Hart working alongside Griffin, the Senate Republican whip who arguably did more than anyone else in Congress to bring down President Richard Nixon. There was also Gerald Ford, the first and only president from Michigan.

When Griffin went to Washington after winning a seat in the House of Representatives in 1956. He was appointed to the Senate in 1966 by Romney. Michigan led the United States by pretty much every measure, including Detroit being the richest city in America.

Michigan was home to the Big Three automakers. And it was on the assembly lines of Chrysler, Ford and General Motors that good, honest and hardworking Michiganders achieved the middle-class dream, much to the envy of so many others across the country.

“As G.M. goes, so goes the nation” wasn’t the old adage that it is today. It was reality.

All of Michigan’s economic and industrial might gave those she sent to Washington a tremendous amount of hard power to leverage. Not anymore. It is unlikely Michigan will regain the prominence she once enjoyed at any time in the near future.

Long-term demographic declines have resulted in the loss of five congressional seats since 1980, reducing the state’s clout in Congress and its votes in the Electoral College to pre-1930s levels.

As a result, expect another House seat and presidential elector to be lost after the next U.S. census in 2020.

Dennis Lennox is a columnist for The Morning Sun of Mount Pleasant.

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