Michigan Mayor Takes Great Lakes to GOP

The mayor of Michigan's second largest city is calling on the Republican presidential candidates to take a stand on a comprehensive plan to revitalize the greater Great Lakes region of the United States.

In a 33-second video question submitted for the CNN/You Tube Republican debate, Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell says investing in a proposed strategy to clean up the globally unique waters of the Great Lakes is much more than an environmental issue. He says the move is both a path to, and a requirement for, restoring economic prosperity for the American Midwest in the 21st century.

"Some call it the Rust Belt because we're moving too slowly from the Industrial Era to the Digital Age," says Mayor Heartwell, who also serves as secretary of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative. "The federal Great Lakes Restoration Act would help accelerate this transition by launching a full-scale cleanup of our unique waterways and putting tens of thousands of people to work at jobs like fixing sewers, restoring wetlands, and building cities equipped to compete globally."

A major public works project to rehab the Great Lakes was formally introduced in December 2005. The bipartisan proposal recommends, among other things, cleaning up toxic contamination in rivers and harbors, reclaiming critical natural habitats, and modernizing outdated sewer infrastructure. It would also put thousands of contractors, consultants, engineers, scientists, and other highly skilled professional to work in a region where 'jobs' and 'competitiveness' are top priorities.

But the $20 billion proposal continues to languish in Congress because lawmakers view it as a big, expensive, one dimensional environmental project....if they view it at all. And presidential candidates, too, have yet to recognize the strategic value of the issue, even as Great Lakes voters hunger for bold ideas to speed up a wrenching economic transition.

Republican candidates who seize on the Great Lakes restoration issue would likely strengthen their position among the party base, and earn favor with independent voters, particularly in key swing states such as Wisconsin, Ohio, and Michigan, where Mayor Heartwell's city sits at the epicenter of the state's fiscal and moral conservative base.

Polling suggests an overwhelming majority of Republican voters view the Great Lakes as a vital economic and environmental asset. But those citizens also worry the waterways are in poor condition and vulnerable to continued degradation. That's why surveys also suggest conservatives support spending public dollars to modernize sewage plants, cleanup toxic hot spots, and otherwise restore and secure the health of the Great Lakes. Democrats and Independents feel much the same way.

In other words, revitalizing America's Great Lakes is a winning issue for Republicans. A strong position supporting the proposal enables presidential hopefuls to cross partisan lines, demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of the challenges and opporuntities facing the Upper Midwest and, perhaps more importantly, distance themselves from the out-of-touch policies and practices of the Bush Administration.

Whether they have an opportunity to publicly respond to Mayor Heartwell's question on the CNN/YouTube stage remains to be seen. His is #1,456 of 1,460 videos submitted to date. Just 38 of nearly 3,000 questions submitted were put to Democrats in the July 2007 debate. The live Republican debate is scheduled for Nov. 28, 2007.

But maybe some smart campaign staffer will pick up on it before then.