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Former Michigan Senator John Kelly dies of heart attack


Former Senator John Francis Kelly, who served four consecutive terms in the Michigan State Senate and helped push Michigan to become the last state needed to ratify the 27th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, has died of a heart attack. He was 69.

John Kelly was born and raised in Detroit and represented the city during his 16 years in the Senate. He attended three of Michigan’s flagship universities, earning a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan, a doctorate from Wayne State University, and a law degree from Michigan State University. He was also a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves.

Kelly, a Democrat, joined a Democrat-controlled Senate in 1978, sponsoring more than 100 bills or amendments that became law - including Michigan’s anti-apartheid legislation - during his time in the legislature. He may be remembered most infamously for his temper, though: in 1991, he was involved in a fist fight on the Senate floor with former Senator Gilbert DiNello during a debate on cutting property taxes.

Kelly twice ran for a seat in the U.S. House and lost, but remained relevant in politics even after his final term in the Michigan Senate ended in 1994; in 2000, he authored a resolution that was adopted by the Electoral College calling for an investigation into Florida’s recount system, which gave the presidency to George W. Bush. Kelly’s longtime top aide, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, has presided over cases related to Detroit's 2013 bankruptcy and serial sexual predator Larry Nassar.

Correction: A previous version of this story described Kelly as a Republican. The sentence has been corrected above.

jd is a Digital / Social Media Assistant at Michigan Radio.
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