Rep. Steve McMillan was always a champion for his constituency
By Fran Thompson
Pleasure Island resident Steve McMillan, who represented South Baldwin County in the Alabama House for more than 40 years, passed away on April 28 of brain cancer. He was 80 years old and had announced in January that three tumors had been discovered on his brain and he would not be seeking re-election.
McMillan’s many legislative accomplishments included making sure The Lodge at Gulf State Park was re-built following Hurricane Ivan and drafting legislation, along with Walter Penry, that created Gulf Shores/Orange Beach Tourism.
He was also instrumental in the creation of the Alabama School of Math and Science, the Alabama Homeowners Bill of Rights, and the Green Veterans Home in Bay Minette.
But his forte was constituent service, as he was always ready to do whatever was necessary to help South Baldwin residents cut through red tape to resolve issues. And that process started with his insistance on returning constituents’ phone calls.
“That’s the most important thing to do. To call them back. Usually, they tell me they didn’t expect to hear from me,” McMillan said when he announced that he was retiring. “Our number one job is really to act as a go between for citizens and government agencies. People are usually very appreciative when we speak with them.”
McMillan pushed through a legislative sales tax waiver that allowed the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo to save construction costs that would have indefinitely delayed the completion of the zoo at its current campus.
Also a supporter of education and Alabama’s youngest citizens, his legislative leadership helped curb youth abuse in unsupervised rehabilitation facilities and make it easier for law enforcement officers to catch sexual predators trying to connect with children.
McMillan was also passionate about protecting Alabama beaches. He wrote laws banning colored clay and protecting sea oats. He also created historic landmark districts to help unincorporated areas of Baldwin County protect their history and unique identity.
A pillar of the Alabama House, McMillan succeeded his twin brother, John McMillan, as the House District 95 representative in 1980, after his brother quit to become state conservation commissioner. Re-elected in 1982, he won every election that followed, often running unopposed over that 10 term span.
Frances Holk-Jones of Foley, and Michael Ludvigsen and Reginald Pulliam of Gulf Shores are running for the GOP nomination for McMillan’s seat during the May 24 primary. The winner will face Democrat Richard David Brackner Jr. of Gulf Shores in November.
“His integrity and demeanor earned him the trust of House members on both sides of the aisle, and he worked effectively with Republicans and Democrats alike. Every House Speaker under whom he served respected his opinion and was influenced by his counsel,’’ said House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter.
“When Rep. McMillan spoke, his colleagues listened. Steve McMillan’s legacy will live on in the scores of legislators he mentored and advised, the important measures he sponsored and passed, and the Lodge at Gulf State Park that he worked so hard for so many years to make a reality.’’
McMillan’s legislative talent also led to the creation of the Baldwin County Revenue Commission and the Baldwin County Judicial Commission.
Always appreciated by the dog lovers among his constituency, McMillan sponsored legislation that allows dogs in open, outdoor areas of restaurants in Baldwin County, and he led the effort to ban animal shelters in the state from using gas chambers to euthanize dogs and cats.
A former Democrat, McMillan switched to the Republican party in 1989. He served on the House Rules Committee and the House Ways and Means Education Committee.
“After I got elected, he really took me under his wing a tremendous amount,” State Rep. Matt Simpson of Fairhope said. “The institutional knowledge he had, I tried to soak up like a sponge. Steve was just a wealth of knowledge and a tremendous asset to Baldwin County.”
Gov. Kay Ivey directed flags in the state to be flown at half staff to honor McMillan.
“Rep. McMillan was a dear friend and our state’s longest serving member of the Alabama House of Representatives,” Ivey said. “He was a champion for the people of South Alabama and will be missed by all.”
“He wasn’t afraid to take unpopular stands as long as it benefited or protected the people in his district,” said House Speaker Mac McCutcheon added.
One of McMillan’s bills that gained national attention was HB-440, signed into law by Gov. Ivey in 2017. The bill required all youth residential facilities, including private religious or faith-based organizations, that house children for more than 24 hours to be regulated and licensed by the Human Resources Department. McMillan drafted and introduced the bill after stories of horrific abuse surfaced at several institutions across the state
His work on behalf of Alabama’s state parks earned him the state’s prestigious Conservation Eagle Award.
“Rep. McMillan has been extremely active on the joint legislative committee on state parks, he’s been very instrumental in the Gulf State Park project. He helped make this whole hotel and conference center possible,’’ said Dept. of Conservation Director Chris Blankenship when he presented his friend the award.
With his usual good humor, McMillan said there were others who were more deserving of the award than he was.
“I just outlived everybody,” he added.
Filled with the love of friends and family, the knowledge that he had an incredibly positive impact on his community and almost universal respect from his constituency, McMillan’s life was well lived for many reasons, including the absolute fact that he woke up every day and tried to make life better for the people that elected him to try to do just that.
An Auburn grad (class of 1964), McMillan worked in real estate and participated in a plethora of civic and professional organizations, including the Baldwin County Association of REALTORS, the Little Lagoon Preservation Society, the Perdido Bay Optimist Club and the Fort Morgan Civic Assn.
He is survived by his loving wife, Gayle, children Scott and Jason and six grandchildren. His funeral will be on May 7 at Gulf Shores United Methodist Church.
Rep. Steve McMillan was always a champion for his constituency