Great Lakes Votes Matter in Presidential Race

‘Tis the season…..Not that season. The political season, and more specifically, that period when, every four years, the national political parties are particularly attentive to the Midwest. In case you’ve been living deep underground, shielded from all radio waves, yes, it’s a presidential election year.

This year our states seem to be hearing less than one might expect  from the White House aspirants—Obama, Romney, Gingrich, Santorum, and Paul. But that’s about to change. Now that the Michigan Republican primary is getting closer (February 28) and the Ohio primaries is close behind (March 6), the candidates will be turning their attention to our region. Yet their interest goes far beyond the primary.

You might think that every region of the country believes it’s “special” when it comes to presidential elections; after all, everybody votes. But it turns out that some votes are more important than others. Here’s why.

What do Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin all have in common? Yes, they’re Great Lakes states. But it also happens that they are expected to be presidential election swing states – states that could go to either the Republicans or the Democrats. Which means that the presidential candidates and their parties have to campaign in those states, and campaign hard, all the way through the November election.

Great Lakes Swing States

If you look at the political map, you’ll see that the Great Lakes region has the highest concentration of swing states of any region in the country. And these states are big; they hold lots of electoral votes.

Which is why people who vote in those states have more clout that people who vote in, say, California (a safe Democratic state) or Idaho (a safe Republican one). Voters in swing states like ours can swing their state one direction or the other, and maybe take the entire presidential election with them.

Here’s why swing states are so important: what people care about in those states becomes what the candidates care about. And we know two issues of great importance to those voters: Great Lakes restoration and Asian carp.

Voters Support Keeping the Great Lakes Healthy

The  Great  Lakes are not just the dominant natural feature the ties the region together; they are the basis of the region’s economy and quality of life. They are our competitive advantage. Voters recognize that and they strongly support candidates who want to keep the lakes healthy. That fact is reflected in poll after poll, in frequent editorials, and in the strong support that Great Lakes restoration receives from leaders from both parties.

Likewise, people in those states (particularly in Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin) see Asian carp as a huge threat to the Great Lakes, and they want the federal government to act to stop the invasive fish. Editorials throughout those states have raised the alarm and castigated the Army Corps of Engineers for moving too slowly.  Just last week, a Michigan EPIC/MRA poll found the following:

  • 6-in-10 Michigan voters favor erecting barriers in Chicago Canals to prevent Asian Carp from entering Lake Michigan
  • More than 7-in-10 know “a lot” or “some” about Asian Carp issue
  • Nearly 3-in-4 are very concerned about Asian Carp entering Lake Michigan

Great Lakes Pledge for Presidential Candidates

The presidential candidates can’t afford to be weak on Great Lakes issues or Asian carp. To help them make a meaningful commitment, the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition has provided a special service. We’ve  drafted a Great Lakes pledge, and we’re asking each candidate to sign it. Here are the concrete commitments the candidates need to make:

“I will maintain historic funding levels and, where appropriate, increase Great Lakes restoration funding over existing levels in my annual budgets for the priorities outlined in the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration and Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, and for future protections of the Great Lakes, such as fewer beach closures and sewer overflows, more clean up of toxic sediments, more restoration of wetlands, and greater prevention of new invasive species; and

“I support a permanent solution to the threat of Asian Carp and other aquatic invasive species entering the Great Lakes.   I will order the Army Corps of Engineers to take all necessary measures to construct a permanent barrier to hydrologically separate the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes basin at Chicago. Those measures include completion of a study by December 31, 2013, to determine the best means of hydrological separation; interim actions to prevent the Asian carp from establishing breeding populations in Lake Michigan until the construction of the permanent barrier is completed; the inclusion of the necessary funds for those measures in my budget proposals to Congress; and the development and implementation of a long-term financing strategy to construct and operate the permanent barrier.”

These commitments are concrete for a reason. Voters can tell that a candidate is serious if he signs the pledge. If he won’t sign, then you know he’s waffling on the Great Lakes.


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