State Rep. Steve McMillan, left, and his twin brother, Alabama Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan, are cheerleaders for their state.
Brothers John and Steve McMillan carry on a family tradition in Alabama state government.
by Alvin Benn
Alabama has produced many political leaders during its nearly 200 year existence, but two brothers have achieved something extra special.
Republicans John and Steve McMillan are glittering examples of a family who continue to put our state before themselves.
It should also be noted that they’re twins.
John currently is halfway through his second term as commissioner of the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries while Steve continues to rock along as a member of the Legislature, a position he’s held since 1980.
The brothers trace their political ancestry back to 1820 – one year after statehood – when John Murphy was elected to the Legislature.
Murphy, who was their great-great-grandfather, topped that achievement when he became Alabama’s fourth governor in 1825 and served a second term two years later.
The thread running through the politically aggressive McMillan family may seem old-fashioned to some, but John and Steve are proud of their ancestors and how they’ve provided them with important lessons in responsibility.
They were raised with the Golden Rule as their familial guide with rules and principles based on doing the right things in life.
"We’re from a big family down in south Alabama," John said. "We were taught family values based on honesty and integrity from the time we could understand what they were."
Steve said he and John learned, "If we misbehaved in school, our daddy would let us have it when we got home. It wasn’t abuse or anything like that at all. Just a look of disappointment on his face was enough to set us straight."
Cousin George McMillan continued the family’s political winning ways when he was elected lieutenant governor and then nearly defeated George Wallace in the 1982 gubernatorial election.
Wallace led by a wide margin during the party’s primary election, but McMillan almost took the runoff. He lost by only 23,759 votes during an election in which over a million votes were cast.
"The McMillans are great people down in Baldwin County where they live in the Stockton community," said the lawyer from Birmingham. "The special values they possess have taken them a long way in our state."
As the twins climbed Alabama’s political ladder, they could look back to ancestors such as Gov. Murphy and contemporary relatives such as George McMillan as two examples of political leadership.
It’s been that way for generations of McMillans. The family’s most recent success story has been the brothers who have served in various leadership positions in and out of politics.
John McMillan is the elder statesman of the pair who celebrated their 75th birthdays on July 6. He arrived about 30 minutes before his kid brother.
Their mother, Madie McMillan, took her last breath in the same house where she nurtured her family. She was 103 when she passed away.
Political experts in Alabama have watched in amazement as John and Steve continue their winning ways during each election cycle.
"The two were among pioneer leaders of early Republican gains in Alabama Legislature," said Ed Bridges, director emeritus of the Department of Archives and History.
Bridges said Alabama has never had twins to rise to such political prominence in the state.
What impresses Bridges the most about the McMillan twins is the way John and Steve have conducted themselves during their amazing victory string in the political arena.
"Neither one of them is a showboat politician," Bridges said. "Both are hard workers who answer calls for help as soon as they are made."
John worked at his uncle’s farm and his father’s sawmill during his formative years. He continued at the mill after college while also focusing on forestry, wildlife protection and natural resource management.
Alabama Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan is surrounded by hunting prizes that adorn the walls of his Montgomery office.
Public service beckoned in 1969 when Gov. Albert Brewer named him to a vacancy on the Baldwin County Commission. Five years later, he was elected to the Legislature and then re-elected to another term. During the time, he was chosen Legislator of the Year on two occasions.
In 1980, Gov. Fob James named him commissioner of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
That appointment opened the way for Steve to toss his hat in the ring to succeed his brother in the House of Representatives. He won in a breeze and continues to be reelected every four years.
One of John’s most important accomplishments was playing a major role in rebuilding Gulf State Park after the devastation of Hurricane Frederic in 1979.
Steve’s 36-year tenure in the House of Representatives is the fifth longest in Alabama history.
Steve McMillan gives a legislative update for state and local issues at the Gulf United Metro Business Origination in Baldwin County.
After graduating from Auburn University, Steve pondered his future with teaching first and real estate second. He chose real estate and, today, operates a successful business.
"Actually, I did teach real estate at Faulkner State Community College and that helped me politically," he recalled. "With 30 students in each class, it added up in numbers – especially when I started campaigning."
A conservative Republican whose repeated victories at the polls infuriated Democratic leaders so much that Steve found himself moved from political pillar to post during reapportionments.
In 2000, Democrats apparently thought they could get even by cutting Steve’s house out of his district, forcing him to move into another Baldwin County political district. It was a decision that would become laughable.
The couple didn’t blink a second, moving to Orange Beach, a community where the twins’ family had lived since 1920.
"The Democrats wanted to punish him for helping to elect Republicans," recalled Gayle McMillan, who could have been her husband’s campaign manager the way she pushed his candidacy. "Steve said that only a Democrat would think it was punishment to force someone to move to the beach."
John gets a chuckle out of that development involving his brother.
"His district has been redrawn five times and he continues to be re-elected," John said.
It’s been a classic case of having the last laugh and is likely to be repeated two years from now when Steve once more is up for re-election. He says he has every intention of running again.
Steve put his successful real estate career on a back burner when he ran the first time and it would prove to be a costly decision – but not one that he’s ever regretted.
"There’s no telling how much it’s cost me in the real estate business," said Steve of his three decade-plus career in the Legislature. "It’s a huge sacrifice for elected officials and their families because we are expected to be available at all times."
Brother John is his twin’s biggest fan, but he isn’t surprised because it all goes back to family values and the good lessons in that area as they grew up.
"I’m not complaining because I enjoy what I do," Steve said. "Not everybody can say that."
Although the twin politicians bear a striking resemblance neither feels they are identical. Such is not the case when they are seen together by someone unfamiliar with them. Double takes are not unusual.
"I’ve had to pull my driver’s license out to prove I am who I am," Steve said. "We never dressed alike when we were kids and haven’t done it as adults."
The rumor mill is being churned by political junkies who enjoy guessing who might run for governor in 2018.
John McMillan’s career as Alabama’s top agricultural official will be ending that year and political speculation making the rounds indicates he might just run for the state’s top spot.
"Right now I’m very happy in the position I have, but I’m not ruling out a possible run for governor," he said. "We’ll just have to wait and see what might happen."
If there is one thing that keeps the twins on their toes, it’s correcting those who write their surname with a second "i" – as in McMillian.
It happens now and then in newspapers and magazines so they’re happy to set the record straight. It’s the least they can do to perpetuate the memory of a remarkable family.
Alvin Benn is a freelance writer from Selma.