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In His Own Words

Text of keynote address by Lieutenant Governor Dick Posthumus to Michigan Lakes and Streams Association

April 27, 2002 | By Andy Guy
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

HARBOR SPRINGS, MI – I was born and raised on a farm where the Coldwater River ran right through. It’s a great trout stream. If anybody here is from down by Canterbury Township you know a little bit about it. Today my wife Pam and I are riparian owners on a lake called Indian Lake in Osceola County. So, my interests are right there where you’re at. I share your values and your interests.

But most importantly, even if I didn’t own one inch of property on the water I believe this: That when you think about Michigan, just think about this for a minute, sometimes we take it for granted. But you know, every state has to have good schools. That’s important. Every state has to have safe neighborhoods. That’s important. Every state has to have good jobs. That’s important. But what makes us unique, what makes Michigan unique, is the fact that water defines us. We are surrounded by water. We have 11,000 inland lakes and I’m told when you count the rest of them we really don’t say 11,000 anymore, we say, what, 35,000. 37,000. Folks, it is the water that defines us and we need to protect it.

Tonight, I’m here for two reasons. One, I want to talk about what we need to do in terms of that protection. And second, very candidly, some of you may have heard that I’m running for an office. And I would like to have your support before we get done.

Let me tell you a little bit about my background so that you can get a better idea of who’s standing in front of you. I was born and raised on a farm in southern Kent County. I come from a fairly large extended farm family and my two grandfathers had a big impact on my life as we grew up. My mother’s father, he lost his job in the depression. As a result, my mother lived on welfare for awhile.

It’s not very often you’ll hear that from a Republican. My Dad’s side of the family, my grandfather, who I actually grew up with, was a disabled veteran in World War I. As a result, my father and his brothers and sisters and my grandmother much of the time had to do the work on the farm. Despite that, during the depression they also lost their farm. Both of those families ended up working hard, like a lot of families.

I don’t think this is unique to Michigan. I don’t think my family’s unique. I think if you go back in your family’s background there’s probably a lot of families here who went through difficult times during the depression, went through difficult times in the 1970’s. But they worked their way back. And my parents, when they got married in 1945, didn’t have any money so they had to find a place to live. Not on our farm, which we still own today. There was a second building.

It was a house that was built in the mid-1800’s but it was so old that it was used for grain storage. When they got married, they took oats out of the bedroom, they took the wheat out of the living room. That was the only house I knew until I graduated from college and got married.

So I tell you that because I think it’s important that a leader of the state share the values of the working men and women that come from this state. And I’ll bet if I went around this room we’d hear lots of stories like that. So that’s why I’m here.

When I first ran for office in the 1980’s, the reason I did was that I wanted to make sure that we had a state that my kids would be able to live in. I was born and raised here and because of our water, because of our natural resources, I love this state. I’m sure that’s why you’re all part of this association. You wouldn’t want to be any place else. It’s a wonderful place.

But in the 1980’s, as our kids were graduating from high school and college, Michigan was in deep trouble and so as a result they were moving to other places – Indiana, or Ohio, or North Carolina – to find jobs. And I didn’t want that for my new young family.

That’s what motivated me to run for office. When I was elected, I went to Lansing and happened to run in later to people like Representative Bradstreet and others who wanted to make a difference and turn Michigan around. And in the last 10 years I really believe we’ve done that. We’ve created jobs. We’ve actually improved our water quality. We’ve improved our schools. And I’m excited about that. That is in part why I’m running for office, running for governor.

I believe there are four priorities in the next decade. I’ve talked about this all over that state. I want to be part of making sure we build the next generation of Michigan jobs. We build the next generation of Michigan public schools. We move to the next level of preserving and protecting our neighborhoods, especially after September 11. And fourth, we need to take the next steps to preserve and protect our natural resources, in particular our water.

I’d like to take just a moment to talk to you about that specifically. My passion for protecting our water – 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. But preserving that water comes from who I am and what I feel. Because of the land that I was raised on. It also comes from the history that I had.

Where I grew up we didn’t have a lot of money. Our vacations were spent like this: My mother worked in a factory. She was a member of the AFL-CIO, another odd thing for a Republican family, right? My dad was a farmer and worked in a grain elevator. We didn’t have a lot of money so our vacation weren’t spent in California, they weren’t spent in Florida. They were spent with a tent for one week each year in our state and county parks.

As a result, I really saw how a middle class working family could benefit from what we had from this state. At the same time I started to have kids I also developed a love for the water which eventually led to me becoming a riparian owner. But one of the first stories – last night I was speaking to the opening ceremonies of the National Trout Festival in Kalkaska and I said I have to tell a fish story if I’m at a trout festival. I want to tell you this fish story because it really ingrains why water continues to be a passion.

My son Ryan, who is now 16, was 9 years old and we were over in Otsego County. It was on Turtle Lake, and we were fishing for blue gill. We were with my cousin who lives on that lake.

My son threw out the pole and he was reeling away and all of sudden he said, "Dad, I got a big one."

Being a father, I said, "Son, I’m sure you’re right." I just kind of watched him.

Then he said, "Dad, no, this is a big one."

All of sudden the fish gets up by the boat and jumps out and here’s a great big 23-inch rainbow trout. Jumps out the water. Jumps in by the boat. Breaks his pole in half. So there we are trying to grab the line, his pole, and land that 23-inch rainbow.

It’s not so important about the fish. But it shows the stories about water, and families, and what they mean to people in Michigan. That’s why I have such a deep passion for this. And it’s why I’ve said as Governor that within the first six months of my administration I will put in place what I’m calling a ‘Marshall Plan’ for the preservation and protection of Michigan’s water.

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

It’s why a little over a year ago I went on record in opposing directional drilling underneath the Great Lakes. It was not an easy decision for me. And it’s not something I’ve done often. As you’ve probably heard, 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. And in part because I took that position early on, today there will be no directional drilling in Michigan’s Great Lakes. And I think that’s a benefit for all of us, don’t you?

Now, are there bigger threats to our water and to those of us who are riparian owners? Absolutely. Much bigger threats. And that’s why we must not let all these other issues get us away from that.

For example, the issue of invasive species. Zebra mussels. You know how big that is. These pose a huge threat, and a continuing growing threat, to not only the Great Lakes but our inland lakes as well. Last summer, I was proud to sign legislation that put Michigan at the forefront in setting ballast water policies that will help to begin keeping invasive species out of the Great Lakes. Folks, that must be done.

This is only the first step because we can’t do it by ourselves. Somebody’s got to take the leadership and we did that. As governor, I will be meeting with the governors of our region, pulling the governors and the leaders of the Canadian provinces together because we need to get them on board. They need to take a position as well so that we’ll have a Great Lakes strategy.

And maybe just as important, we’ve got to get the federal government involved. We’ve got to tell Congress you’ve got to put the politicking aside and tell us who’s going to take responsibility from the federal government for helping protect our Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway?

At the same time, I think it’s important what you’re doing here. You all are our infantrymen and infantrywomen at the frontline of this battle because we need to make sure that our public understands what they can do to help prevent expansion of zebra mussels and invasive species of all kinds in to our lakes. It means all of us getting involved.

There’s a role the federal government can play. And I will fight for that as governor. There’s a role that the Great Lakes region can play. And I will take the lead in bringing the governors together nationally. You can darn well be sure of that. There’s a role that the state itself can play. I believe that one of those roles is to have our DNR and county sheriffs to take a much larger role in enforcing the regulations that are there today. We don’t necessarily need new regulations. It’s a matter of enforcing what’s there today.

Another issue that will be part of the Marshall Plan is the rebuilding of our sewer infrastructure. Maybe as important as anything that’s going to have an impact on all of our inland waters is the sewer infrastructure and our septic tank infrastructure. Twenty years ago we were all worried about private entities and the pollution they were putting into our waters. By and large today our biggest pollution isn’t coming from our private sector, it’s coming from us. It’s coming from those of us that are part of communities whose sewers are beginning to decay. It’s, in part, coming from those of us who are not using septic systems correctly.

To address this, I am working with the Legislature today to put on the ballot a $1 billion bond proposal that can be used for a revolving loan fund and help rebuild our sewer infrastructure. Ladies and gentlemen, we must get that done.
At the same time, education is going to play an important role. I met a young man here early involved in helping to bring educational issues to our schools. We’ve got to take a bigger role. Because learning about water – I was just interviewed by a conservation group yesterday and they asked how old should kids be when we start teaching them?’

I said we need to teach them as soon as they’re walking. They go out there and they see the water and the soil and the land and they need to start learning. In our schools, they can start learning when they’re 7-8-9 years old. So that they first understand the value, and then understand the responsibility that they personally can take.

And then there’s the responsibility that we need to take in terms of how we deal with our septic systems. All that will be a critical piece of the Marshall Plan as we lay that out in the next month.

Maybe one of the most immediate threats – it may not be the biggest direct threat – but I think it may be one of the most immediate threats indirectly to our waters — is what I call the thirsty politicians in Washington.

There are folks in Washington that want to take control of our Great Lakes. Folks we can’t let them do that no matter how good their intent. Because if today they can tell us that they don’t want us to do something that’s in our interest, tomorrow they have the power to tell us that they’re going to do something that may not be in our interest but that they think is in their interest. And I tell you, one piece of the Marshall Plan will be this: New Mexico and Arizona, you won’t get one drop of Michigan’s Great Lakes.

Ladies and Gentleman, I am happy to be here. I’m happy that you’re willing to take this issue on. We’re not going to agree on every issue. In fact, I’ll bet that at that table you don’t agree on every water issue. But we can agree on this: We’ve got the same goal in mind: That’s to protect our water. To preserve our rights as riparian owners. And to ensure that our water quality continues.

In 1982 when I first ran for Michigan Senate, I told my constituents that if I had the opportunity to serve in the senate that I would leave the state better when I left than when I entered. I believe I did that.

I pledge to you tonight that if you give me the opportunity to serve as your next governor I will work every single day with all my heart and with all my soul to preserve and protect your rights as riparian owners, and preserve and protect the water quality in Michigan because Michigan deserves no less.

Thank you and God bless you.

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