By GEORGE WEEKS
---- — They vow to be good stewards of Michigan's natural resources and were endorsed in their gubernatorial primaries by the Michigan League of Conservation Voters — an increasingly active scorekeeper on such matters.
But Republican businessman Rick Snyder and Democratic Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero have been relatively mum — nor pressed by the media — on these issues during the general election campaign, which has understandably focused primarily on jobs and Michigan's distressed economy.
As I have noted previously, Bernero and Snyder were good on environmental issues during the primary at a forum at Central Michigan University sponsored in part by the Michigan LCV.
Subsequently, in chats with them as they campaigned Up North, I found them well-informed — indeed strong — on Great Lakes issues, including supporting efforts against invasive species, particularly Asian carp.
But environmental issues were not raised in the only Bernero-Snyder debate — even by the candidates, who could have worked them in while responding to moderators' questions.
Nor have these issues surfaced in their ads, nor do they get prominent attention in their stump speeches that focus on "reinventing" (Snyder) or "shaking up" (Bernero) state government.
Rather than endorse either Bernero or Snyder, Michigan LCV Executive Director Lisa Wozniak said Friday the league decided to "play a watchdog role…tracking candidates day to day" with the hope that voters and reporters will press the candidates. There aren't many days left.
In letters to each, it said that in the primary "we endorsed you … due to your focus on the environment and green job innovation in Michigan. We approach you again now" to ask questions on issues such as a moratorium on coal plants, location of wind power turbines, sulfide mining, funding of state parks, and the budget of the Michigan Department of National Resources and Environment (MDNRE).
The hottest environmental issue last week was buzz, of uncertain origin, that Snyder as governor might tap Russ Harding, former director of the Department of Environmental Quality under Gov. John Engler and now with the Midland-based Mackinac Center for Public Policy, to be the DNRE director in a Snyder administration.
For a span last week on the online Enviro-Mich site hosted by the Great Lakes Information Network (GLIN) "Rumor of Russ Harding in Snyder Administration" was a dominant subject line among scores of people who chimed in to the site. Republicans who have talked to Snyder discounted it.
Wozniak said, "I would be very surprised," if that happened.
Meanwhile, she said a League of Conservation Voters team would be in northern Michigan this week on behalf of reelection of state Rep. Dan Scripps, D-Leland, and the quest of state Rep. Gary McDowell, D-Rudyard, for the 1st District seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Menominee.
Stupak weighs in
Retiring U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Menominee, who called Friday to tout McDowell as his replacement, said McDowell's "a longtime champion of the Great Lakes."
Stupak, himself a champion of the lakes during his nine terms, recalled that when McDowell was in local government he helped mobilize opposition to a Canadian-backed plan to divert Great Lakes water.
Although McDowell trails Republican Dan Benishek, a surgeon from Crystal Falls who has bolted out of obscurity to the ballot, in funding and some polls, Stupak said he could win "if we can get the base to turn out." One interesting development last week came when Charlevoix businessman Gil Ziegler, who was the Republican 1994 nominee against Stupak, endorsed McDowell — saying he is "willing to put party aside, work with other people and just get the job done."
Rogers weighs in
Five-term U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Brighton, one of six congressmen to endorse Benishek, said in a call Friday that Benishek brings a "unique set of experiences" to the race and has demonstrated "a passion for the Great Lakes." Rogers, who scheduled appearances for Benishek in Charlevoix and Petoskey, is among senior Michigan congressmen who could have key committee roles if Republicans seize control of the House. A possible flip of the Stupak seat is among key races that could make that happen.
Rogers, a former FBI agent and state senator, could become chairman of the House Intelligence Committee — as retiring Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Holland, once was.
Rogers also campaigned for Ray Franz, the Onekama businessman who is giving incumbent Scripps a tough challenge for the state House.
George Weeks, a member of the Michigan Journalism Hall of fame, was the political columnist for The Detroit News and previously was with UPI as Lansing Bureau Chief and foreign editor in Washington. His weekly Michigan Politics column is syndicated by Superior Features.