Environment Picture

President's Column: The voters have spoken! Now we have to figure out what they really said

In Michigan, as across the nation, voters took out their anger with the continuing economic recession on the party in charge. A key factor in the election was that many voters stayed home. Close to 640,000 voters (300,000 Democrats and 340,000 Independents) who voted four years ago in the last gubernatorial election were uninspired to vote this year. Thus, Republicans swept to power, taking all of the statewide offices, including the Supreme Court; grew their legislative majority in the State Senate; and took a huge 20-seat swing in the State House to retake the majority. Winning the election may turn out to be the easy part.

Listening to Governor-elect Snyder’s victory speech, environmentalists had to be hopeful. The victorious Snyder stated right off the bat that protecting the Great Lakes, our natural resources and investing in our cities, namely Detroit, were his priorities. My good feelings were tempered almost immediately when the governor-to-be spoke of reducing regulatory hurdles and eliminating the Michigan business tax (a potential $1.5 billion hit to the budget deficit, already pegged at close to $1.6 billion) to help jump start the Michigan economy.

At MEC, we stand cautiously optimistic, with the election of Rick Snyder. He starts with a clean slate.

Team Snyder: Several of Snyder’s first appointments are familiar faces from the Engler Administration; Doug Rothwell, Sharon Rothwell and Mark Murray head up Snyder’s transition team. All three are very capable individuals and have had extremely successful careers in both the public and private sectors.

Snyder hired Bill Rustem to be director of strategy. Bill is well known to MEC and much of the environmental community. He and his company, Public Sector Consultants, headed up Gov. Granholm’s Land Use Leadership Council, which both former MEC President Lana Pollack, Land Programs Director Brad Garmon and I served on in 2003. Rustem was also the environmental policy advisor to Gov. Milliken. He is a supporter of good land use policy, investing in our cities, transforming our transportation system, and protecting our environment and is a champion for the Great Lakes.

Snyder’s chief of staff is Dennis Muchmore, another well known Lansing insider who recently was head of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs where he righted the financial ship and handed off the organization to Erin McDonough.

The Legislature: In the State Senate, Republicans picked up four seats and now have a 26 to 12 advantage, a super majority. In the State House, Republicans picked up 20 seats, the largest increase in 44 years, to take a 63 to 47 majority. Nine incumbent House Democrats lost their seats. What does this mean for us? It means that relationships with key legislators will really matter. MEC and its partners spent this summer and fall meeting with candidates from both parties across the state to educate them on our issues and build stronger relationships.

Many of the incoming senators are known to us through their service in the House. Many were part of the broad coalition of legislators who worked to improve our energy policies and protect the Great Lakes. As key leadership positions are filled in the legislature and committee assignments are finalized, a fuller lay of land will come into focus.

In the Senate, returning Senator Randy Richardville (R-Monroe) is the new Majority Leader. Randy knows the value of protecting our natural resources and protecting our Great Lakes. In the “people’s” chamber, State Representative Wayne Schmidt (R-Traverse City), who worked on renewable energy and transportation, has been appointed by Speaker-elect James Bolger to chair the committee on committees. This committee is charged with making recommendations to the House Speaker regarding which members should sit on specific committees.

Is there danger in this new political reality? Yes. Funding decisions could hamper the state’s ability to fulfill its duty to protect the environment and human health. The governor’s programs no matter how environmentally strong still have to be funded and enacted by the legislature, which is facing at least a $1.6 billion deficit even prior to any cutting of the business taxes. Fast tracking of permits and a focus on economic development through natural resource extraction could all impact our environment. Additionally, the legislature has the votes to override any governor’s veto.

For now the glass is neither half-full nor half-empty. It is an empty vessel waiting to be filled. It is all of our jobs to help the legislature understand the impact of their decisions on the very thing that makes Michigan unique, our natural resources and our people. Let’s hope we are up to the challenge and they are up to the job entrusted to them by the people.
RELATED TOPICS: land use, legislation
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