1st Friday Focus on the Environment: Examining Governor Whitmer's environmental priorities for 2022
Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s 4th State of the State Address is in the books, and she is shifting focus to the new state budget and her re-election campaign. What are the environmental priorities moving forward? That’s the subject of this month's "1st Friday Focus on the Environment" conversation. WEMU’s David Fair and 1st Friday’s co-host, Lisa Wozniak of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, invited former state lawmaker and current communications specialist Dianne Byrum to assess the present and peek to the near future.
ABOUT DIANNE BYRUM:
Dianne Byrum is widely recognized nationally and statewide as one of the most effective political strategists around. Today, she works with many of Michigan’s leading industries, helping position them for the 21st century economy. As a partner in Byrum & Fisk Advocacy Communications, she has extensive experience successfully directing complex multi-layered projects that are national in scope and bridge diverse inter-related industries. Byrum and Fisk is a strategic communications firm, specializing in media relations, crisis management and campaigns.
Dianne has more than 24 years’ experience as an Ingham County commissioner and in the Michigan Legislature, including serving two terms as the Michigan House Democratic leader – the first woman to lead a caucus in the state Capitol. One of her signature tactics was sustained, repetitive, creative communications designed to systematically bolster or weaken lawmakers, depending on the target.
Dianne has been active on many presidential campaigns and has served with national political organizations, including on the board of directors for EMILY’S List. She speaks frequently on government and politics, and news media frequently seeks her for analyses on the latest issues.
In 2008, Dianne was elected to the Michigan State University Board of Trustees with nearly 2.2 million votes statewide. She remains a trustee today and serves as its Chair.
ABOUT LISA WOZNIAK:
Lisa’s career spans over two decades of environmental and conservation advocacy in the political arena. She is a nationally- recognized expert in non-profit growth and management and a leader in Great Lakes protections. Lisa is a three-time graduate from the University of Michigan, with a Bachelors Degree and two ensuing Masters Degrees in Social Work and Education.
Lisa serves a co-host and content partner in 89.1 WEMU's '1st Friday Focus on the Environment.'
David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and I'm David Fair with our first new episode of First Friday Focus on the Environment. I was still on medical leave in January, so we missed that one. But I'm very glad to be back for the February edition. Our content partner for the First Fridays is the Michigan League of Conservation Voters executive director and my co-host Lisa Wozniak. Lisa, it's so good to be with you after several months away.
Lisa Wozniak: Well, the WEMU family has missed you immensely, David. It's so good to have you back, and it's a pleasure to join you for this first First Friday of 2022, even if by phone. I can't believe we haven't been in the same room together since March of 2020.
David Fair: I am most hopeful we'll be able to do so for the March edition. That would be great.
Lisa Wozniak: Well, me too, and I'm very happy to have a tremendous guest today for our post-State of the State Address conversation. Dianne Byrum is a former state representative, a state senator, a current member of the Michigan State University Board of Trustees. She's also a current partner at Byrum and Fisk Advocacy Communications, which is a strategic communications firm specializing in media relations, crisis management, and campaigns. Welcome to WEMU, Dianne.
Dianne Byrum: Thank you.
David Fair: Welcome indeed, Dianne. Well, last Wednesday, Governor Gretchen Whitmer did deliver her fourth State of the State address, and it was the second such address that had to be done virtually because of the ongoing pandemic. As such, she had a much shorter time frame in which to deliver her message, tout her accomplishments, and set the stage for reelection in November. Dianne, in your opinion, did she use that limited time effectively?
Dianne Byrum: I think she really did, and it started with just the tone and the optimistic nature of her speech. So, she gave a brief overview of some of her accomplishments and then went right into priorities for the next year. And I think the important thing was she emphasized working together. We can get things done. There is a bright future for Michigan. And so, I think, even though it's 25 minutes, sometimes less is more. And I clearly think in this State of the State speech with the backdrop of Detroit Diesel and how important electric vehicles are to Michigan's future, I think she did a good job.
Lisa Wozniak: Well, since First Fridays are all about the environment, Dianne, I want to touch on an environmental issue which you've just mentioned that the governor did have time to address. Over the past few years, we've seen a significant growth and investment in electric vehicles, with more getting on the road, more charging stations being installed to support the influx. And the day before the governor's address, GM announced a $7 billion investment for a new EV manufacturing plant. So what will this mean for the state, and what does it say about Governor Whitmer's vision to make Michigan a leader on electric vehicles?
Dianne Byrum: Sure. Well, it clearly was an exciting week last week in the days heading into her State of the State address and with General Motors' announcement and their huge investment into electric vehicles and making sure that Michigan is the epicenter of electric vehicles, I think that was the statement that GM was making, and that was all made possible through the work of Governor Whitmer, her administration, and, of course, her legislative partners. And that's exciting news because that seven billion dollars is going to largely go into two manufacturing plants in the state. One is Orion Township, which is getting the lion's share with a $4 billion investment, but the other one is a new battery plant in Delta Township, just outside of Lansing. That's going to get almost $3 billion. And this is going to equate into some 4,000 jobs, but it really puts Michigan at the epicenter of this new technology that is going to drive the future. And that's really exciting because we're known as the auto capital of the world. And this will make sure that Michigan has that prominence well into the future.
Dianne Byrum: 89 one WEMU's First Friday Focus on the Environment continues. I'm David Fair with my co-host Lisa Wozniak and from the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, and we're talking with Dianne Byrum, a partner at Byrum and Fisk Advocacy Communications.
Lisa Wozniak: Dianne, we were excited to see Governor Whitmer's draft MI Healthy Climate Plan announced last month, and it's the Climate Council's work with EGLE. And it's a plan that aims to set a pathway forward for carbon free economy, which is essential to addressing the climate crisis. How do you see the announcement during the State of the State around the electric vehicles fitting into this overall climate plan?
Dianne Byrum: Well, clearly, emissions is what and reducing greenhouse gas emissions is at the core of the healthy climate plan. And we know that the transportation sector makes up a big portion of those greenhouse gas emissions. So, by switching to electric vehicles and doing it pretty rapidly following the General Motors announcement this past week, also, will put Michigan in a great position to be able to achieve our emission goals by the governor has 100 percent by 2050. I think there's some interest in being a little more aggressive than that, but, clearly, it's the right trajectory. So, the General Motors announcement, the governor's State of the State announcement, all play into and facilitate and advance the Michigan Healthy Climate Plan. So, that's exciting news.
David Fair: So, beyond the State of the State address, because she did have such limited time, there were things that went unaddressed in that particular speech. Late last year, Congress passed a massive bipartisan infrastructure bill that includes billions for states like Michigan to upgrade our infrastructure. Many are calling for that money to be used directly to address water contamination issues, which continue to plague Michigan. How do you see the Legislature appropriating these funds as it relates to water issues?
Dianne Byrum: Well, I certainly hope the Legislature does begin to appropriate more of that federal money, and water infrastructure has to be at the center of it, whether it's dealing with lead-copper issues and replacement of lines in homes, so that you have clean drinking water, or it's addressing the PFAS--these forever chemicals--that we have in our food system. It's clearly there's infrastructure needs around water and access to clean drinking water that need to be addressed. And these funds are available federally, and they ought to be spent in the state of Michigan to do just that.
Lisa Wozniak: So, Dianne, it's often said that, "Show me your budget, and I'll show you your priorities." And the governor is preparing to put forth her next budget proposal. How do you see the administration's environmental priorities shaping up within that?
Dianne Byrum: Water has to be paramount, and the governor has led on water issues, so I anticipate that she will continue that leadership and there will be a piece on water infrastructure. There also be a call for roads and bridges and investment in that kind of infrastructure and investment in schools. But I clearly think water infrastructure, the health of the Great Lakes, and dealing with PFAS--the forever chemicals--are going to be front and center and part of her budget announcement.
David Fair: Once again, this is 89 one WEMU's First Friday Focus on the Environment. We're talking with Lisa Wozniak and Dianne Byrum. And, Dianne, it takes more than just a call or a proposed budget to get things done. And in her State of the State address, Governor Whitmer called for unity between her administration and the majority Republican legislature. GOP leaders did say, after the address, they were willing to work with her. Now, we found that one area where there is some growing willingness to work together is on environmental initiatives, and we certainly hope that will continue to grow. Will the fact that this is a midterm election year hamper cooperation?
Dianne Byrum: I hope not. The governor went to great measures to talk about bipartisanship, working together, and we know that, for instance, water in the state of Michigan is a unifying topic. And so, it's my hope that the Legislature and the governor will come together with some strong budget recommendations and funding that go directly to the heart of quality water for everyone in our state and access to healthy drinking water.
Lisa Wozniak: And finally, Dianne, as of today, there are 13 declared candidates for the Republican nomination for governor. We are still months away from that August primary and the November general election. Is the GOP in a position to win back the governor's mansion? What's your perspective?
Dianne Byrum: My perspective is that Governor Whitmer is extremely strong. I think she's well positioned for reelection. She's talking about issues that unite people. She calls them "kitchen table issues." It's not only about safe drinking water. It's about education for our kids, investment in mental health, lowering the cost of insulin, tax cuts, repealing the pension tax, expanding the earned income tax credit. So, these are issues that people care about--the kitchen table issues. The governor is clearly talking about things that resonate with people of Michigan, and I don't see the Republicans fielding a candidate--at least out of the current group of candidates--that's going to be strong enough.
David Fair: I thank you for your time and insight today, Dianne.
Dianne Byrum: Thank you. Have a great day.
David Fair: That is Dianne Byrum, former state representative and state senator, a current member of the Michigan State University Board of Trustees, and partner at Byrum and Fisk Advocacy Communications. And, Lisa Wozniak, we'll talk again in March.
Lisa Wozniak: I always look forward to our time together, David. Thank you.
David Fair: That is Lisa Wozniak, executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters and co-host for WEMU's First Friday Focus on the Environment. For more information on today's feature and to visit our archive, go to our web page at WEMU dot org. I'm David Fair, and this is 89 one WEMU FM and WEMU HD One Ypsilanti.
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