I’m finally recovering from a 17-hour day co-chairing a local polling precinct at a University of Michigan student dorm. Despite the long day, it was one of the most rewarding civic activities I’ve ever participated in, especially since over 90% of the precinct’s registered voters (almost all students registered for the first time) turned out to vote. Fantastic voter participation from a demographic that too often gets ignored, even in a college town like Ann Arbor. I want to thank my colleague at Wayne Law, Professor Jocelyn Benson, a leading election law authority and founder of the Richard Austin Center for Election Law and Administration for encouraging me to get involved in the election process.
While process is important, I tend to focus on results. And yesterday’s election results almost certainly mean great news for the Great Lakes. First the big picture. President-elect Barack Obama comes from a Great Lakes state, understands the challenges facing Great Lakes cities, and wants to bring new prosperity to the region by meeting our environmental and energy challenges. He put forward a Great Lakes plan, which while far from perfect, demonstrates some commitment to Great Lakes protection. And I personally can’t wait to see the current hacks “leading” the EPA, Administrator Stephen Johnson and Assistant Administrator for Water Ben Grumbles, leave for greener ($$) pastures. They have undermined environmental enforcement and protection of our water and air at every opportunity. Almost any appointees with a commitment to upholding our nation’s environmental laws will be a significant improvement.
In Michigan, two incumbent Congressmen with outdated and out-of-touch views on environmental protection were ousted. Republican Joe Knollenberg, whose district includes my wife’s hometown in Oakland County, was easily defeated by Gary Peters, a moderate Democrat and Wayne Law alum. Republican Tim Walberg, whose district is just west of Ann Arbor, was narrowly defeated by Mark Schauer. The upset was due, at least in part, to Republican former Congressman Joe Schwarz’s endorsement of the Democrat Schauer. Rep. Schwarz is one of my favorite politicians, a moderate Republican who always brings independent principles and great policy sense to every issue. Rep. Schwarz was an environmental champ, and I suspect Rep. Schauer will continue that tradition for the district. I also want to give a huge thanks to my best friend from college, Brent Plater, who came back to Michigan from California for a few months to work with the League of Conservation Voters on these campaigns. And let’s not forget that Sen. Carl Levin, who championed the Great Lakes compact to passage this summer, easily won re-election.
As for the state ballot issues, Minnesota’s Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, which will provide dedicated funding for water protection, fish and wildlife habitat, parks and trails, and the arts, passed with 56% support. In Ohio, the state Constitutional amendment to protect private groundwater rights while still allowing state regulation of groundwater use (part of the political deal to approve the Great Lakes compact over the summer) also easily passed with 71% of the vote.
In terms of offices and issues, yesterday was clearly a total win for the Great Lakes. But more importantly, it was an amazing day for the country and perhaps the world. For the first time in my life, we have a President that inspires our best hopes, not our worst fears. And not by blowing sunshine. We have some very tough challenges in front of us, and the solutions won’t be easy, cheap, or effortless. But from what I saw yesterday with over a thousand students lined up to vote, the next generation is ready to do what our grandparents did, which is come together as a nation to do more for every individual. I’m looking forward to it.