legislative decisions,” Patty explained to me on a train ride from Holland to Chicago. She, in her customary purple attire, and I were travelling to the annual conferences of the Healing Our Waters Coalition and Great Lakes Commission.
“About the time you finally understand and are in a position to make good, knowledgeable decisions, you are term-limited out of office,” she continued.
That was Patty. She always got me thinking. Did the magnitude of the challenges facing the Great Lakes scare off legislators? Was it more politically astute to prioritize issues in which one might report quicker progress to constituents? Issues that did not require the massive amounts of learning, the time-consuming coalitions, compromises, building of bridges between parties? Was it more prudent to wait and react to a crisis in the Great Lakes than to be a leader in prevention?
I first met Patty when I began writing about the Great Lakes thirteen years ago. Instrumental in the passage of the 2008 Great Lakes Compact, Patty explained to me the intricacies of the long, politically-charged journey to get agreement on a document that would oversee water withdrawals from the Great Lakes and promote conservation. It was an agreement designed to prevent a crisis. And because she was concerned withdrawals would become politicized, Patty worked with Michigan’s scientific community to create an assessment tool to guide the state’s water withdrawal decisions. Whether it was discussing ballast water legislation or the challenge of addressing excessive agricultural runoff without handcuffing the state’s top industry, when it came to the Great Lakes, Patty was a wealth of information. And passionate leadership.
Patty passed away last week, suddenly, unexpectedly. A victim of cancer. And while we did not know each other well, her death fills me with sadness. And with resolve.
The Great Lakes remain at risk. They are under attack by the invasion of the Asian carp and other aquatic invasive species, by an aging oil pipeline lying underneath the Straits of Mackinac, by an increase in algae growth caused by agricultural and industrial runoff that puts our drinking water at risk, by limited funding available to clean up the sins of the past, by the threat of climate change, and antiquated water treatment facilitates.
We need legislators like Patty. We need leaders willing to shoulder responsibility for the Great Lakes, to do the hard work to prevent crises, to ensure all have access to clean, safe water. They are the people who will receive my vote this November. I hope you will do the same.
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