An Open Letter to the 2008 Presidential Candidates

Dear Candidate:

The past two presidential elections have made one thing abundantly clear – the Midwest, particularly the eight states surrounding the Great Lakes are needed to win the White House.

“The Great Lakes area is key to anyone winning the Presidency,” said Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) when he addressed the Healing Our Waters Coalition at their annual conference in Chicago last week.

As you know, this campaign is historically significant – it has been more than half-a-century since there was not an incumbent, nor a vice president running for the highest office in the United States. While there isn’t an incumbent politician, there are important incumbent issues – such as the war in Iraq, which has cast a shadow over nearly a decade of domestic politics. It is time to recall home grown priorities. Let’s not forget, as this Administration has for two terms, that global politics are local politics, especially when it comes to economic health, security and the environment.

“Protecting and restoring the Great Lakes is not merely a matter of sound environmental policy, it is the key to a robust regional economy and it is a matter of national security,” Barack Obama said in a written statement to the HOW conferees.

Of the eight states that surround the Great Lakes, five have historically been battleground states for the candidates for president: Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. During the two most recent elections, Al Gore vs. George W. Bush and then John Kerry vs. Bush, several of these states were won by much less than a horse’s head, more like less than a nose hair. Bush took Ohio from Kerry, 51 to 49 – it was that close. It could be that close again in 2008, perhaps in Ohio, maybe in Michigan, the Great Lakes region controls over 141 of the nation’s 270 electoral votes – that’s more than half.

During Emanuel’s speech, he invoked Nixon’s adage, ‘No Republican can win the White House without winning Ohio,’ he added, “We [Great Lakes States] have the most important geography ever.” So, what is the clarion call of this election? Remember Ohio. Whether you are Republican, Democrat or Independent, remember Ohio and remember its northern border is a Great Lake. Without incumbents running – the field is wide open and these states will matter that much more.

Great Lakes states are home to one-third of the nation’s population, produce one-third of the gross state product and hold 20 of the worlds 100 leading research universities . By spending $26 billion over the next five years to employ the Great Lakes Implementation Act, the region would experience new growth, become a magnet for skilled workers and generate at least $50 billion in long-term economic benefits, according to a landmark cost-benefit analysis published by Brookings Institute.

“To those who will be pandering for votes: jobs are the number one political issue. We are offering tangible policies that can grow the economy,” economist John Austin said of the Healthy Waters, Strong Economy report.

In the past, candidates have marched through our region pledging more jobs and mumbling half-hearted promises about protections from foreign trade agreements, but this rhetoric hasn’t stopped jobs from evaporating. Employers continue to abandon the region for the sake of cheap labor – migrating to the smoggy shores of China. Many of our economic assets are heading to the Orient. Yet, there is one thing that isn’t “Made in China” and never will be – the Great Lakes and the water, energy, potential innovative industries and wildlife that is within them. The Great Lakes are ready to be tapped by new, ecologically friendly industries.

“Yes, many in this region are experiencing economic dislocations and need new jobs. But the answer is not to promise them their old jobs back. Rather it is to provide tangible help in creating, participating in, and winning in the global economy,” Austin wrote.

Restoring the Great Lakes is truly a bipartisan issue – an easy win for candidates of any political persuasion.

Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) recalled the way liberal and conservative citizens, lawmakers and NGO’s rallied together to protect the Great Lakes from future pollution when Indiana granted British Petroleum a permit for increased limits. Kirk said the crisis proves “this is an issue voters care about.”

So who among you is going to be astute enough to realize it and commit to restoring the Great Lakes and invigorating the economy of the region? Of all the republican and democratic presidential candidates, Obama is the only one who has promised to work to restore and preserve the Great Lakes.

“As President I will work with you to restore these lakes, which hold a fifth of the world’s surface freshwater, so that they are clean and usable for generations to come,” Obama said in a statement to the HOW coalition.

This is an issue that is vital to the region and a central concern of the voters who live around the Lakes. As you stump in the Great Lakes area, keep in mind that we want a $26 billion commitment and a promise to implement the already agreed upon Great Lakes collaboration strategy .

So, how do you win the Midwest? Repeat after me: Great Lakes, Great Lakes, Restoration, Great Lakes, Great Lakes, Restoration. Are you on message yet?

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