Three Key Targets

Beyond being Democrats, U.S. Congressmen David Obey, James Oberstar, and Collin Peterson all share three things in common. Each political leader calls the Midwest home. Each recently assumed the chairmanship of a powerful legislative committee. And each seem to be ignoring what could very well be the most important piece of federal legislation ever enacted for their home turf.

The November 2006 election catapulted six Congressman representing the Great Lakes region to prominent positions of national leadership. They include:

These committees hold the combined federal power to pass a wide array of policy initiatives and direct billions of dollars in public spending to innovative programs that benefit the economy, ecology, and culture of the Midwest.

What's more, New York Senator Hillary Clinton, Illinois Senator Barack Obama, and Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich already have declared their candidacy for president. And Rahm Emanuel, the Congressman from Illinois, sets the agenda of the House Democratic Caucus.

Indeed, the greater Great Lakes region is enjoying a rare and invaluable moment of influence on the national stage. So what will we do to seize this opportunity? What big idea will the region's leadership unite behind and advance in Washington? What will they accomplish?

The most obvious and ripe opportunity is to leverage the political clout to enact and fully fund the $20 billion proposal to restore the Great Lakes, introduced in both the House and Senate last March. The public works project would help modernize the economy, cleanup degraded but still globally unique waterways, and preserve an incomparable way of life.

Still, the idea struggles to gain traction, even among the political leaders whose districts it would without doubt benefit. In fact, three of the new committee chairs - Obey, Oberstar, and Peterson - have yet to sign on in support of the strategy to revitalize the Great Lakes.