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Howard A. Learner

Seizing Environmental Opportunities for Midwest Progress Following the 2022 Midterm Elections

Voters chose competence, stability, and problem-solving over chaos and disruption.

The public’s overall message in the 2022 midterm elections is clear: People mostly voted for competence, stability, and problem-solving, instead of chaos and disruption. People didn’t vote for change, they voted for calm nationally and in the Midwest states.

The re-elected Midwest governors can advance effective bipartisan regional coordination for EV charging infrastructure, Great Lakes restoration, a higher-speed passenger rail network, and energy efficiency, which are key climate change solutions.

Stability:

  • Democrats retained majority control of the U.S. Senate, and no incumbent Senators were defeated, thus far, going into the Georgia runoff election.
  • Republicans appear likely to gain a very slim majority in the U.S. House, but there was only a trickle, not a “red wave” of change. All of the U.S. representatives in the Midwest states running in November were re-elected, except for two (Cindy Axne, D-IA; Steve Chabot, R-OH). As President Biden pointed out, Democrats lost fewer seats in the House than any Democratic president’s first midterm election in at least 40 years.
  • All of the Midwest governors were re-elected. Nationally, only one incumbent governor lost (Steve Sisolak, D-NV) while the Democrats appear to be achieving an overall net gain of two governor seats.

Much has been written about some high-profile Trump-backed candidates’ losses in hotly contested states – for example, Blake Masters and Kari Lake in Arizona, Adam Laxalt in Nevada, and Mehmet Oz and Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania. Competence and problem-solving beat disruptive extremism in most races.

There are some real environmental opportunities in the Midwest states that take two very different forms – the first more partisan and obvious, and the second more bipartisan and well worth exploring.

First, the Midwest results reflect a “tale of two regions” with both a Blue-Green Wave providing opportunities, along with a Red Wave:

  • Democrats gained “trifecta” control of the governors’ offices and state legislatures in Illinois, Michigan, and Minnesota.
  • Republicans consolidated control of almost all statewide offices in North Dakota, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, and South Dakota.
  • Only in Wisconsin are the governor and state legislatures controlled by different parties.

The partisan opportunities: Can Illinois Governor JB Pritzker with supermajority Democratic support in both the State Senate and House continue to lead on environmental and climate action progress? Can Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Minnesota Governor Tim Walz, who have gained slim majorities in their state legislatures, hold together Democratic legislative support and build bipartisan alliances with some Republicans to advance forward-looking environmental and climate legislation? Safe, clean water issues – dealing with PFAS, E. coli, and algae blooms – that have overwhelming public support might be particularly good bipartisan opportunities.

Second, there may be untapped key Midwest state bipartisan opportunities for effective regional coordination among seven Midwest Governors who were first elected in 2018 and were all re-elected in 2022: Gov. Mike DeWine (R-OH), Gov. Tony Evers (D-WI), Gov. Kristi Noem (R-SD), Gov. JB Pritzker (D-IL), Gov. Kim Reynolds (R-IA), Gov. Tim Walz (D-MN), and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI).

Four years ago, they didn’t know each other. Now, these Governors and their staffs know each other pretty well, and they have gained experience working together.

The bipartisan opportunities: Multi-state collaborative efforts through the Midwest Governors Association and the Council of Great Lakes Governors on shared interests and goals. Some possibilities:

  • Coordinated regional EV charging infrastructure along the interstate highways. As I-80 crosses Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, and I-94 runs across Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota, it’s smart to develop an integrated EV charging system, not separate systems in each of the states. Federal funding is available to build this EV charging system right for the future.
  • Great Lakes funding and restoration. The Great Lakes is where we live, work, and play. Public and policymaker support is bipartisan and, actually, nonpartisan. President Biden and Congress have enacted legislation providing unprecedented billions of dollars of federal funds for the Great Lakes. The governors should work together to invest these funds effectively to protect and restore our region’s iconic freshwater ecosystem, great places for outdoor recreation, and drinking water resources.
  • Energy efficiency. With much focus on renewable energy development, sometimes the opportunities to retrofit residential, commercial, industrial, agricultural, and governmental buildings to be more energy efficient get bypassed. Energy efficiency is the best, fastest, and least-expensive climate change action solution. Making our buildings more efficient saves utility customers money on their utility bills, creates jobs, keeps energy dollars in our local economies and avoids greenhouse gas and other pollution. Building codes and other supportive policies produce huge paybacks. Who supports wasting electricity, natural gas, and money?
  • Building out the Midwest regional higher-speed passenger rail network, hubbed in Chicago, and connecting the region’s large cities, the in-between mid-sized cities, university towns, and rural hub cities. Substantial federal funding is available. Amtrak has developed a robust regional plan. A modern higher-speed rail network improves mobility, creates jobs, avoids greenhouse gas pollution compared to car, bus, and plane travel, and pulls together the Midwest regional economy. It’s time to accelerate the Midwest passenger rail network, finally!

Key Federal Opportunity – Great Lakes Restoration and Coastal Resilience: If the U.S. House is narrowly controlled by right-wing Republicans, there seems a high likelihood of intense partisan battling on climate, energy, environmental, and natural resources protection issues. Great Lakes protection and restoration, however, is one likely area of agreement with opportunities for progress. U.S. Rep. David Joyce (R-OH) may well return as Chair of the House Appropriations, Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies – he is a reliable supporter of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and other Great Lakes protection programs. Support among House Democrats – led by re-elected U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) – remains strong. There is strong support in the U.S. Senate and among the governors.

The 2022 midterm elections produced only a trickle of the predicted “red wave” in the U.S. House, the opposite in the U.S. Senate, and a triumph of calm, competence and stability among the Midwest’s governors. We have many opportunities for environmental progress to go along with plenty of challenges. Let’s move forward to seize the opportunities.

Howard A. Learner,

President and Executive Director

Howard Learner is an experienced attorney serving as the President and Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. He is responsible for ELPC’s overall strategic leadership, policy direction, and financial platform.

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