Last week State Rep. Steve McMillan announced that he would not run for another term in the Alabama House of Representatives.
The decision marks the twilight of a 41-year career in Montgomery. McMillan represents State House District No. 95, which includes Barnwell, Bon Secour, Elberta, Foley, Fort Morgan, Gulf Shores, Josephine, Lillian, Magnolia Springs, Miflin, Ono Island, Orange Beach, Perdido Beach, Robertsdale and Summerdale.
“I’ve about accepted the reality of it, I needed to. I would love to keep going the way I’m going, but everything must come to end,” he said as he prepared to celebrate his 80th birthday, just days after fireworks lit up the skies to mark the independence of the nation he has served for more than half of his years on Earth.
McMillan’s career began in 1980 after he won a special election to step into the seat his brother, John McMillan, had vacated when he was appointed commissioner of conservation and natural resources.
The first months after that transition were confusing for some folks around the capitol.
The brothers are twins.
“One funny time a guy asked me how he could get a map of Gulf State Park. Before I could answer Jay Turner said, ‘Call John at conservation.’ I started to walk off and the guy looked at me, looked at Jay and said, ‘Who the hell was that?’ McMillan said with a chuckle.
“I never thought we were identical, but I guess a lot of people think that,” he said.
When he took the job, McMillan said he had always been an active citizen involved in local issues. At the time there was just two years left in the four-year term. He said he figured he would “give it a try,” knowing that the commitment was short and if he didn’t enjoy it, he didn’t have to run again.
“I liked it, so I’m still there,” he said.
McMillan not only finished the two years of his brother’s term but went on to be elected to the seat for ten more terms.
McMillan quickly forged his own path in Alabama politics, crafting legislation that touched upon a wide swath of topics, but with a special lean towards children’s issues both in his district and across the state.
He penned the legislation that limited the distance that divorced parents could relocate from each other in an effort to maintain visitation rights for children. He and Ann Bedsole created the State Teacher of the Year award. He worked with Baldwin County leaders to provide funding for K-12 programs and the Coastal Community College.
In 2017 McMillan made national news when Gov. Kay Ivey signed HB-440, a bill McMillan championed that 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 after stories of horrific abuse surfaced at several institutions across the state.
Over the years, McMillan showed there is a lot that politicians can do to help. But, he said, sometimes the public expects the impossible and that is when the job becomes hard.
“Part of problem I think is they try to solve the problem themselves and they get into it and make it worse. And then they come to you and expect you to solve it,” McMillan said. “Sometimes they don’t realize we can’t just change things.”
McMillan said over the years his priority has been to return every phone call from every constituent.
“That’s the most important thing to do. To call them back. Usually, they tell me they didn’t expect to hear from me,” he said. “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.”
Now, McMillan said, it is time to move on.
“It’s a seven day a week, 24 hour a day task if you do the job the way I think it needs to be done,” he said.
McMillan, who still works in real estate as he did when he first ran for office, said he plans to return to the business world and not retire completely. There are other types of public service he is interested in pursuing, he said. Plus, lots of books he wants to read, and lots of fish he wants to catch.
And, he has plenty of good friends to keep him busy, long after he leaves his political career behind.
“There are a lot of fine people in the legislature,” he said. “That goes a long way in making any negative thing more positive.”