Three Things Thursday: June 29, 2023
Dear Michigan LCV Family,
Welcome to the June 29, 2023 edition of Three Things Thursday. This week I’m taking a departure from the norm. Instead of sharing Three Things that Michigan LCV has been working on and/or accomplished, I have decided to share a little bit about me and why – with my two boys now grown and out of the house – I have decided to spend a chunk of my free time as a volunteer board member. But, please watch for our newsletter tomorrow because there’s BIG news about the state budget and a number of bills that just landed –or will soon land – on the Governor’s desk!
I sit on the board of a small set of organizations, each of which plays a vital part in creating an interconnected, sustainable, just and equitable society. And, very importantly, each has at its helm a talented, committed individual who is leaning in to build the institution in an authentic, creative, determined way.
As I often tell people: Work at every level – local, state and federal – matters. Find the place that feels best to you and jump in!”
Each of us has a “superpower” and we’ve got to find ways to leverage that power for the greater good. One of the wonderful Michigan LCV Education Fund board members, climate scientist Julia Cole, used her “superpower” this week to author this opinion piece entitled, Wildfires and extreme heat burning ever closer to Michigan, which was published in Bridge.
NBC News headline 6.27.23
Air quality in Chicago reaches worst in the world:
Smoke from ongoing wildfires in Canada is creating unhealthy haze across the Midwest
“A person rides a bicycle along the shore of Lake Michigan in Chicago as the downtown skyline is blanketed in haze from Canadian wildfires Tuesday. “
Kiichiro Sato / AP
Detroit Free Press Headline 6.27.23
Detroit air quality ranks second worst in world due to Canadian wildfires
“Smoke from Canadian wildfires lingers in Detroit skyline off of
Woodward Avenue on Tuesday, June 27, 2023.”
Ryan Garza /Detroit Free Press
The time is now. The world is literally on fire!
1. Local: Protecting our water and land; connecting communities
I have been honored to serve as a city representative (Ypsilanti City Council-approved) on the Huron River Watershed Council (HRWC) for the past many years. HRWC was founded in 1965 and is SE Michigan’s oldest environmental organization dedicated to river protection. As a 30-plus-year resident of Washtenaw County, I care deeply about the Huron River watershed. It is the mighty Huron, after all, that provides Ann Arbor its drinking water and thousands of area residents the pleasure of fishing, boating and other forms of water recreation.
The Huron River watershed spans a land area of more than 900 square miles and drains water to the Huron River through hundreds of tributary creeks and streams. As a board member, I learned that the river flows more than 125 miles from its headwaters at Big Lake, near Pontiac, to its mouth at Lake Erie, and that the river’s drainage area includes seven Michigan counties (Oakland, Livingston, Ingham, Jackson, Washtenaw, Wayne, Monroe), 63 municipal governments, and 650,000 residents.
I am also a (fairly) new board member on the Huron Waterloo Pathways Initiative (HWPI), which was founded to support and facilitate the development of non-motorized recreational pathways and to help link Michigan’s growing network of trails. HWPI’s core strengths are raising private sector funds for trail construction and engaging area residents in ways that celebrate and support the trails and our community connections. HWPI plays a key collaborative role with public entities like Washtenaw County and the municipalities of Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Chelsea, and Dexter, and is laser-focused on helping complete the Border-to-Border Trail (B2B Trail) before moving to the myriad of other trails can and should be interconnected throughout the region.
Both of these organizations understand that their hyper-local work is immediately connected to tackling the global climate crisis as they work to protect our waters from the impacts of increasingly intense weather and provide residents with growing possibilities for non-fossil fueled transportation.
NOTES on leadership:
- Huron River Watershed Council is led by Rebecca Esselman, who joined the HRWC in 2012 and became the executive director in 2019. Rebecca is a passionate botanist and conservation ecologist who lives near the Huron River with her family in Dexter. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Rebecca over the years and I can say with conviction that the Huron River watershed has an amazing leader at the helm of this important organization.
- Huron Waterloo Pathways Initiative is led by Kiff Hamp. Kiff became the first formal executive director for the organization in the early days of 2022 and has been laser-focused on setting the strategy, building the team and executing much-needed community engagement. Kiff has a background in policy, law and public education, and a deep passion for the great outdoors, which he enjoys regularly as an active long distance runner. He and his wife are raising their two young children in Ann Arbor, a place he’s long called home. Full disclosure: Kiff left Michigan LCV to take this job. My teammates and I miss him a ton, but are thrilled that he’s leading this vital trail work.
Think globally, act locally!”
2. State: Making Michigan a model for the nation
Michigan has been transformed in remarkable ways over the past few years, and – yes! – I am very proud to say that Michigan LCV has played a key role in making that happen. One of the critical structural changes, however, was the end to partisan gerrymandering, which was spearheaded by a once all-volunteer entity called Voters Not Politicians (VNP). I am very proud to say that I have been on the board of VNP since 2018 when a subset of the stalwart volunteers evolved the ballot question committee into a registered non-for-profit organization in early 2019.
Since that time, VNP has played an essential role in the implementation of the 2018 proposal, ensuring that the new nonpartisan redistricting commission did its job well, and in the passage of the 2022 Promote the Vote (part 2) ballot initiative, which codified all the voting rights adopted in the 2018 ballot initiative into our state constitution. VNP has also been a key partner with the ACLU, Promote the Vote, Michigan Voices, as well as Michigan LCV Education Fund’s Democracy for All team (and many others) in ensuring broad-based voter education, clerk engagement and education, poll worker recruitment and voter mobilization. In addition, ethics reform, money in politics and an array of other issues are included in VNP’s overall goals as the organization builds for the long haul, serving as a national example of what it means to tackle some of the biggest challenges to a healthy, thriving democracy.
NOTE on leadership:
- Nancy Wang, who has served as the executive director since 2019, recently announced her departure. Nancy’s legal background (she’s a former member of the UM Law School faculty) and deep dedication to voting rights and democracy reform has been key to the organization’s growth. While she will be sorely missed, I’m delighted to say that Jamie Lyons-Eddy, who was also a founding member and has been an active and core part of the organization since its inception, has stepped into the role. With a background in public policy and a deep connection to the roots of the organization –its massive list of volunteers! – VNP is in solid hands as we move forward.
3. National: What happens in DC is important (and Michigan is at the heart)
There is no other national organization in the political/environmental space that focuses on the climate crisis and preservation of our democracy like national LCV, an organization that I have been proud to be associated with in one way or another for over two decades. For the past 12+ years, I have been privileged to serve on the LCV Education Fund board of directors, where I’ve learned a lot and brought a consistent message: “States matter! And, Michigan matters!”
National LCV is structured just like Michigan LCV, with both a 501(c)(3) and a 501(c)(4), which necessitates two boards of directors, and the leadership on the LCV and LCV Education Fund boards is outstanding. Carol Browner, who served as EPA Administrator under President Clinton and director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy in the Obama Administration, is the chair of both entities. Other board members include former Maryland Congresswoman Donna Edwards; Kathleen Welch, principal at Corridor Partners and board chair of the Natural Resources Defense Council; Reverend Lennox Yearwood Jr, President & CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus; Brendon Cechovic, CEO of the Western Conservation Foundation; Roger Kim, CEO of the Climate & Clean Energy Equity Fund; Kerry Schumann, executive director of Wisconsin Conservation Voters; and Brionté McCorkle, executive director of Georgia Conservation Voters, and Laura Turner Seydel, chair of the Captain Planet Foundation and international changemaker, to name just a few.
The work of the national organization has been transformational to the federal conversation about climate change. Indeed, LCV led the way in establishing the climate movement as the single largest donor to the Biden campaign in the last presidential election.
And, at the heart of this federal work is Michigan…always! Whether we are talking about key US Senate races, leadership on the Farm Bill, tackling PFAS contamination, protecting wetlands, or passing monumental climate legislation, like the Inflation Reduction Act, Michigan is at the center of it all. What that means, is that the growth and success of an organization like Michigan LCV matters not just for changing the trajectory of Michigan politics and policy, but for changing course in the halls of Washington, DC. My time on the national board has both helped bring a critical Michigan voice to that table and solidified relationships and trust, creating an ongoing partnership between the state and national organizations. Together, we have built one of the strongest state Leagues in the nation.
Note re: leadership:
- Gene Karpinski is the hardest working, most selfless man I have ever met. After decades of service at US PIRG, while also serving on the national LCV and The Beldon Fund (a private foundation established by Michigan’s very own John Hunting) boards of directors, Gene became the CEO of LCV in 2005. It’s the best thing that ever happened. Since then, the organization has not only grown and changed in remarkable ways, but it has embraced the “superpower” in its midst: the network of 33 state leagues across this country! In his free time (if he has any), Gene loves to play a rigorous, competitive basketball and has recently embraced pickleball with the same intense focus (watch out!). Gene is a true gem; he’s someone I admire and deeply respect more than he will ever know.
Left to right: Gene Karpinski, me and John Hunting at our 2016 Detroit Awards Gala
So, as you can see, I have the great fortune to be a part of a number of outstanding organizations, bringing my knowledge of institution-building and Michigan politics to the table. I have made an effort to sew my professional and personal time together, connecting local, state and national issues in a way that, I believe, can be transformational in addressing the greatest challenges of our time. It is my great hope that each of you find the right ways to channel your own “superpowers”. We are certainly very grateful that one of your areas of focus is Michigan LCV. As I say every week–and I mean it!–we couldn’t do all that we do without your trust and support!
With that, I wish you all a very happy 4th weekend. I’ll be back next week with another “special” edition of Three Things Thursday. Until then….
P.S. Supporting our partners at Planet Detroit
If you haven’t subscribed to Planet Detroit yet, I encourage you to do so. While I’m not on Nina Ignaczak’s board, I’m a big fan of hers and this vital media resource she has put in place and continues to build. If you want an example of the reporting, check out this recent article on PFAS, which provides a solid picture of what we can do right here in Michigan to address this growing problem.
And, for a sense of the intensity of the PFAS challenge, I strongly recommend this recent Vice News piece entitled, “Hidden Chemicals Destroying American Farms.”