The Great Lakes became a contentious issue during the campaign for Russ Feingold’s (D) US Senate seat. Feingold’s republican opponent Ron Johnson let slip that he would support drilling for oil in the Great Lakes. It wasn’t long before someone advised him to reverse his position and he did, but now he is Wisconsin’s US Senator and it is clear, if nothing else, that he doesn’t understand the importance of Great Lakes restoration to his state and the region’s economic recovery otherwise he would never had made such a blunder.
Senator Elect Johnson, who owns significant stock in BP (and Exxon and Occidental Petroleum) and has expressed disappointment with the Administration’s “assault” on the oil giant after they created the worst environmental disaster in humankind’s history in the Gulf of Mexico, needs to be educated on our issues. Johnson is a businessman so we should start with telling him that every dollar spent on Great Lakes restoration creates a two-fold profit for area businesses and property owners. Will someone please send him the Brookings Report?
Johnson wasn’t the only republican victory in the Badger State, in fact, the Governor’s mansion, two US House Seats and the State Legislature all went to the GOP. Thank goodness that Great Lakes restoration is a bipartisan issue.
In May, Rep. David Obey (D-7) said he would retire at the end of this term – a major blow to Great Lakes advocates as the longtime Representative fought hard for Great Lakes issues and chaired the powerful Appropriations Committee. Wisconsin voters chose republican Sean Duffy, a businessman who promised to scale down government spending. Last week, he met in Duluth with Port Authority officials to discuss great lakes issues. Officials explained the need for environmental protection and infrastructure improvements. They let him know the federal government is responsible for dredging Duluth-Superior Harbor and has in the past invested millions in port improvements. At the news conference following the meeting, Duffy stuck to his fiscal guns promising to cut non-defense discretionary spending back to 2008 levels (that’s before the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative), but he did say, “I think there’s a balance, a lot of times folks might see as a competing interest between the economy and the environment. And I think both can be successful and both can accomplish their goals.” So, we have an opening – a crack in the door so to speak – let’s get in there.
On the House side, the districts bordering the Great Lakes will have one other newcomer – Reid Ribble (R) who defeated long-time Great Lakes advocate Steve Kagen (D) for the 8th district seat in Wisconsin. Ribble is a keen businessman, a member of his local chamber of commerce and while his town’s chamber isn’t a member of the Great Lakes Metro Chambers Coalition, we can hope he knows about their campaign for Great Lakes restoration. The Blueprint for Prosperity explains how restoring the lakes will benefit the economy and finally pull the region out of the economic doldrums it has been battered by for years. There is a good chance Ribble will bring new vigor to the Great Lakes delegation when he comes to Washington.
The rest of Wisconsin’s coastal delegation remains in place, including Paul Ryan (R), Gwen Moore (D), James Sensenbrenner (R) and Thomas Petri (R).