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WMEAC: We need to ask candidates to explain their environmental vision

• May 18, 2018 at 5:00 PM

Nearly two-thirds of registered Michigan voters did not cast a ballot in the 2016 presidential primary election. This was the best voter turnout to a primary election since the modern primary election began in 1972.

Ottawa County residents went above. About 43 percent of county voters came to their polling locations, up 18 points from 2012’s presidential primary.

Unfortunately, primary turnout during non-presidential election years are, historically, even lower. Yet, the policies that shape our lives as Michigan citizens the most every day are created by local, county and state elected officials, who run for office during each primary election year.

When Michigan voter turnout is less than half in a good year, the need to encourage everyone to become registered, active voters becomes all the more crucial.

Michigan Legislature candidates may have keen visions. They may have deeply passionate hearts. They may have been movers and shakers in their communities who want to move and shake things in Lansing for the people they serve. They may be excellent public servants to Michigan’s environments.

But Michigan residents rarely get to hear candidate visions or see their tenacities. It’s often difficult to know who the candidates are, let alone what they stand for.

Ottawa County is served by two legislative districts. Michigan’s 30th District senator, Arlan Meekhof, R-Olive Township, is term-limited, making for a highly contested primary race. Four Republicans — Rett Deboer, Holland; Daniela Garcia, Holland; Joe Haveman, Zeeland; and Roger Victory, Hudsonville — are vying for a general election spot to compete against Democrat Jeanette Schipper of Holland and Libertarian Mary Buzuma of Grand Haven.

Michigan’s 89th House District representative, Jim Lilly, R-Park Township, is seeking re-election; while Republican Beverly Zimmerman of Holland and Democrat Jerry Sias of Spring Lake compete to unseat him.

Outside of politic aficionados, devout supporters and the occasional campaign door-knock or flier, state candidates tend to fly under the public’s radar. State Legislature campaigns do tend to have less funding than governor or national campaigns, meaning less opportunities for outreach. A smaller constituency means less volunteers. News outlets may be drawn to coverage of larger campaigns.

But candidate outreach can, and needs to, change. Not only do candidates for office need to be visible to all potential constituents, their ideas of policy must be detailed and informative. Ottawa County residents deserve to be informed on the views of their potential officeholders so that they can vote for the candidate that will best improve their own and Ottawa’s environmental welfare. They need answers.

Why do some candidates have no online campaign presence? How will their potential future constituents know where they stand on environmental issues?

Why do some candidates not mention any environmental concerns on their list of issues on their campaign sites?

Why do some candidates cite protecting the Great Lakes from invasive species as a top issue on their campaign sites, yet simultaneously desire to reduce agricultural regulations, putting Michigan’s bodies of water at risk of contamination?

How will certain candidates implement their stated goal to shut down Line 5 and enact their other environmental priorities?

Some means to ask these questions is by phone, email or letter — contact information can be found on candidates’ campaign sites, if they have them.

Another is to go modern. Facebook and other social media platforms have given potential voters an entirely new means of interacting with their potential and current elected officials. As we gear up for the primary election, many candidates will begin to host fundraisers, “meet and greets,” and other events where their constituents can ask them about their positions on environmental — and other — issues.

For example, Ottawa County residents can ask why certain candidates voted to ease ballast water restrictions and allow invasive aquatic species to infiltrate Michigan’s water systems in 2017 in the Michigan House. They can ask why a particular candidate voted expand the definition of renewable energy to include municipal solid waste in 2014 and allow the Michigan legislature to determine which wildlife is huntable, no matter how threatened they may be, in 2013.

At their public events, candidates can explain how they will keep Ottawa County one of the most diverse agricultural counties in the nation while keeping pollutants out of the ground and water. They can explain their intentions to protect Ottawa County’s shores, wilderness and parks.

Candidates can provide their thoughts on the coal-fired power plant and industries along Lake Macatawa, the green highway for wildlife and recreation along the Macatawa River, and all the land along the Pigeon River cleared for agriculture.

If we don’t ask, candidates won’t have a chance to explain their vision for protecting Michiganders’ rich natural heritage and earn our votes.

Beau Brockett is the editor-in-chief at the Albion College Pleiad and is working with the West Michigan Environmental Action Council for the summer.

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