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Posthumus’ "Marshall Plan" for Great Lakes Gains Definition

Mindful of party’s environmental image, says he’s not typical Republican

May 1, 2002 | By Andy Guy
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

  Several times Lieutenant Governor Dick Posthumus sought to convince his Harbor Springs audience that he’s a different kind of Republican who will work to protect natural resources.

HARBOR SPRINGS, MI — Nearly six months after he deliberately distanced himself from Michigan Governor John Engler by elevating the environment as an issue and calling for a "Marshall Plan" to protect the Great Lakes, Lieutenant Governor Dick Posthumus has spelled out the broad outlines of the program.

In a keynote address to the Michigan Lakes and Streams Association’s annual conference here on April 27, Mr. Posthumus said his plan would address fecal contamination from overflowing sewage plants, leaking septic systems and septic wastes, exotic species, mercury pollution, and strengthen regional laws to prevent diversions of Great Lakes water to thirsty parts of the nation and world.

It was the first time Mr. Posthumus, the leading Republican candidate for governor, gave shape to a new policy initiative, which he announced last fall, to protect the Great Lakes. The basic ideas of Mr. Posthumus’ plan are not new and largely follow the recommendations of a bipartisan state Senate task force, which studied Great Lakes issues last year. But Mr. Posthumus’ apparent interest in using the safety of the lakes to define his campaign is new, said observers, and represents a decided move by the Republican party’s conservative wing to appear more moderate on environmental issues. Sage Eastman, the spokesman for the Posthumus campaign, said the lieutenant governor would have more substantive details ready by June.

"After World War II we had a Marshall Plan for the re-building of Europe," said Mr. Posthumus. I believe we need a Marshall Plan for the protection and preservation of Michigan’s waters, and for the protection of riparian owners. This issue, in my opinion, is that big and that important to us."

The speech here, which was well-received, clearly was intended to both elevate Mr. Posthumus’ apparent concern for Michigan’s environment, and to distinguish his views from that of Gov. Engler, whose stewardship record has come under severe public criticism, even from members of his own party. Opinion polls in Michigan show that the public views the Republican Party as an opponent to environmental progress, a finding that could hurt Mr. Posthumus’ chances in November. Several times Mr. Posthumus sought to convince his audience that he’s a different kind of Republican who will work to protect natural resources.

"I’d like to take a moment to tell you about my passion for protecting our water," he said. "Sometimes you don’t hear that from Republicans enough. I don’t know why. We have as our tradition Teddy Roosevelt, who happens to be one of my political mentors. He was one of the first national leaders that understood the importance of preserving and protecting our natural resources."

Political analysts said an emerging theme in Mr. Posthumus’ campaign is to reach out to moderate Republicans, many of whom are prepared to vote Democratic because of their disagreement with the Engler administration’s rigid jobs-at-any-cost position on the environment.

Meanwhile the Democratic candidates for governor are defining their campaigns by taking the issue of how to manage the Great Lakes water to a new level of focus and prominence. Attorney General Jennifer Granholm, who leads in public opinion polls, proposed a 10-point Clean Water Forever Initiative. The plan would advance land use policies that safeguard water quantity and quality; promote comprehensive conservation practices; reinvigorate Michigan’s nationally recognized Natural Rivers Program; and modernize state programs to manage the water resource not according to political borders, but by the natural boundaries of watersheds, the land area that drains to lakes, rivers, and streams.

Former Governor James Blanchard, who is running again, announced last February that he would create a new state department of Great Lakes and Water Quality. The mission: To coordinate policies between regional, federal, and international jurisdictions, advance stronger toxic waste cleanup laws, and pursue a Great Lakes protection plan modeled after the multi-billion dollar initiative to restore the Florida Everglades.

And U.S. Representative David Bonior, who was recently endorsed by the Sierra Club and Clean Water Action, pledged to improve water treatment systems and sewer infrastructure to ensure safe water for drinking and swimming. He also has opposed a project by the Perrier Group to construct Michigan’s largest groundwater bottling facility in rural Mecosta County.

With his "Marshall Plan" for the Great Lakes, Lt. Gov. Posthumus also sounds many of the same themes as his Democratic opponents. And by keeping many of the details private, he holds the interest of the media and voters sympathetic to such issues.

Bill Ballenger, the editor of Inside Michigan Politics, says it’s a question of timing. "Unlike Granholm, Blanchard, and Bonior, he doesn’t have much of a primary race," Mr. Ballenger said. "Posthumus can be patient and take more time to layout his policy while the Democrats go at it tooth and nail. He doesn’t have a real contest until November."

Environmental and smart growth advocates have reason to be hopeful about Mr. Posthumus’ water plan. As lieutenant governor, he recently took an active role in two important decisions to safeguard the Great Lakes. He signed legislation last summer to prevent invasive species from gaining access to the region through the ballast water of ships. And he went on the record last July in opposition to drilling for oil and gas beneath the Great Lakes.

"It was not an easy decision for me," Mr. Posthumus said of his stance on Great Lakes drilling. "It was a place where I had to break publicly from my good friend and boss, the governor. But there were risks to our shoreline, and I just felt that the benefits were too few."

Mr. Posthumus’ address to the Michigan Lakes and Streams Association – an organization formed in 1961 and which now includes over 150 individual members and more than 350 lake, river and stream associations — drew a mixed reaction.

Some in the audience said they recognized gaps in Mr. Posthumus’ emerging water policy and wondered if the lieutenant governor has done enough to show a real break from the natural resource policies of the Engler Administration.

"He definitely sounds like a Republican," said Roman Miller, a member of the Robinson Lake Improvement Association. "He talked about ensuring that our water doesn’t go to Arizona, or to other thirsty states, but what about this Perrier water bottling plant they’re building? I don’t care much about zebra mussels."

Others expressed confidence that Lt. Gov. Posthumus shared their concerns and, if elected, would act accordingly. "I think Posthumus sounded truthful and sincere," said Mitch Billeter, a wildlife clay artist and proprietor of Mitch’s Rifle River Pottery. "I’m very concerned about protecting our natural resources because my business thrives off tourist dollars in the summer. The unique environment that we have is what attracts people to our state. Obviously, Mr. Posthumus appreciates that."

Andy Guy, a journalist covering Great Lakes issues and co-author of Liquid Gold Rush, a seminal 2001 report on groundwater use in Michigan, manages the Michigan Land Use Institute’s office in Grand Rapids. Reach him at

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