ESCANABA - Gary McDowell, Democratic candidate for the U.S. House in Michigan's 1st District, stopped in Escanaba Friday as part of his "Our Lakes, Our Livelihood" tour of Northern Michigan and the U.P.
"We've been talking about the importance of the Great Lakes," said McDowell. "Of course it defines us in Michigan, the Great Lakes defines us as a people, but also the importance economically."
According to a study by the University of Michigan, 1.5 million U.S. jobs are provided by the Great Lakes. In Michigan alone the Lakes provide 525,886 jobs.
"We have to protect the Great Lakes. It's so important, not just for our natural beauty and recreational purposes but also for our economic viability," said McDowell.
According to McDowell, Congressman Dan Benishek is not protecting the Great Lakes. "One recent vote was to allow more mercury contamination and pollution into the Great Lakes," said McDowell.
In 2011, Benishek voted to nullify existing EPA rules for cement plant emissions and to develop new rules which would go into effect in 2017. "Benishek, what his plan is there would be no rules on the Great Lakes for the next five years. No regulation. They can dump whatever they want out there under his plan," said McDowell.
"I think it was just two weeks ago there were rules proposed to stop the Asian carp infestation into the Great Lakes; he also voted against that. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative - he's voted to slash funding for that," said McDowell.
The Initiative is a task force of 11 federal agencies working to clean up toxic areas of concern, combat invasive species, protect watersheds from polluted run-off, and restore wetland habitats.
"I would support the Great Lakes Restoration," said McDowell. "We need a congressman who's not going to slash that funding."
The issue of invasive Asian carp is a major concern for McDowell. "There's a study just recently that said if as few as 10 mating pairs got into the Great Lakes, what then? It's just in a small number of years that they can take over the entire ecosystem," he said.
"I like my perch, my walleye; my whitefish," he added.
McDowell also criticized statements Benishek made earlier this year about the U.P. work ethic. In June, Benishek told the Daily Press, "People don't want to work, or they don't have the right skill set to work, or they wait until their unemployment runs out before they get to work. There's a lot of challenges."
McDowell believes this is the wrong message to send. "For our congressman to insinuate that we're lazy, that's a terrible message," said McDowell. "What a terrible message to come from our congressman when we're looking at employers to come here to locate."
The "Our Lakes, Our Livelihood" tour has given McDowell an opportunity to spread his message before the November election. "Right now we're still getting around the district and talking to the people of the district, and getting our views out, and also pointing out that Dan Benishek is now the incumbent."
McDowell doesn't believe that Benishek is what the 1st District needs. "We need a congressman who's going to fight for the U.P. Stand up for us working families."