Portrait of a first gentleman

BY DAVE MEKELBURG

Published October 3, 2006

Daniel Mulhern is something of a rarity in the world of American politics: He's a governor's husband.

Morgan Morel
Gov. Jennifer Granholm and husband Daniel Mulhern speak to the press after the first gubernatorial debate in East Lansing on Monday. (RODRIGO GAYA/Daily)

Mulhern is married to Gov. Jennifer Granholm, one of only eight female governors in the country.

Mulhern's most common moniker is "first gentleman," though there is no standard title for a female governor's husband. Other titles range from "First Coach" Raymond Blanco, an ex-football coach and husband of Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D-La.) to "First Dude" Gary Sebelius, husband of Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D-Kan.).

"It's amusing from time to time," Mulhern said. "One of the fellas on the state police used to kid me - he'd call me AG."

The name "AG," he said, refers to Granholm "and guest."

In an attempt to capitalize on his position, Mulhern advocates programs for children throughout the state of Michigan. The first gentleman's most prominent project is "Mentor Michigan," a program started by Granholm while she was attorney general.

The program provides opportunities, funding and recognition for adults mentoring children. Mulhern doesn't shy away from what he calls the "first lady mantle" - the idea that an executive's spouse should use his or her power to champion a cause.

Mulhern, who was student director of a mentor program as an undergraduate at Yale University, said kids have always been important to him.

Mulherns career aspirations have varied over the years.

"My husband was going to become a Catholic priest, but the we met," Granholm said Monday during a debate with challenger Dick DeVos.

Mulhern's primary duty as first gentleman is taking care of his and Granholm's three children. But his work isn't limited to childrearing.

"My days vary tremendously," he said. Some days it's coaching his son's basketball team. Others, it's spending time with his wife during her travels around the state.

Some days, it's writing.

Mulhern's book, "Everyday Leadership: Getting Results in Business, Politics and Life," will be released in February. He also publishes a weekly online column, "Reading for Leading," where he provides guidance for mentors around the state.

One of Mulhern's other duties is acting as a surrogate speaker in Granholm's place. He described campaigning as one of the highlights of politics.

"Campaigning is always positive," he said. "It stands in stark contrast to the 30-second spots on TV."

Mulhern heralded speaking with the public as an outlet for democracy, an opportunity to further explain policy and ideas. However, he is not particularly thrilled with ads.

"It's tiring and depressing to watch the cynical ads," he said, "And sometimes that includes our own stuff."

He said he wishes ads could be enlightening and informative in a short 30 seconds, but that it's often impossible.

Even with the ads and the difficulty of not being able to see his wife as much as he'd like, Mulhern is proud to be part of the American political machine. He maintains that both he and Granholm "still feel idealistic" about the entire process.

This idealism doesn't necessarily translate into total agreement. Although he and Granholm see eye-to-eye on most things, there are a few points with which the first gentleman is wary.

Mulhern said he is more likely to err on the side of mercy in some policies, specifically regarding the state prison system. The stories sent by inmates' relatives strike a particular chord with Mulhern.

"I would tend to be more receptive to (the stories), but that's very easy for me because I don't hear all of the viewpoints," he said.

Most of all, though, Mulhern just wants to see people get involved. Whether it is with the government or mentoring programs, he wants to see more people, especially students, take an interest in the community.

Students wonder, he said, "Should I think about politics?"

"The answer is hell yes!"