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E-M:/ Bonior Environmental Interview

Enviro-Mich message from "Jeff Surfus" <jeffsurfus@mediaone.net>

Below is an interview with Rep. David Bonior conducted by the Northern
Express news magazine out of Traverse City.  The article appeared on May

The interview is mostly concerned with environmental issues in Michigan.

(Note:  Northern Express has given me permission to post this article in
its entirety.)

Jeff Surfus

Northern Express Weekly  -- May 31, 2001
by George Foster

As the Democratic Whip in the U.S. House of Representatives, David Bonior
is the second most powerful Democrat in the House. As such he is the
highest ranking person from Michigan to ever serve in the House Democratic

In the media, Bonior has often been cast in the role of the Democratic pit
bull whenever a spokesman is needed to rally his party against Republican
opponents. In person Bonior is soft-spoken, thoughtful, and appears
genuinely concerned about the issues raised in this interview.

Bonior was elected to the Michigan state legislature in 1972 and four
years later was voted into the U.S. House of Representatives from
Michigan's 10th District. He has served in that capacity for 25 years.
Bonior has been in the leadership of his party for about half of that
time, the Whip since 1991.

Bonior is now running for governor of Michigan next year. We caught up
with Rep. Bonior in Traverse City for this interview.

NE: Why are you running for governor?
Bonior: I'm running because this governor has made a disaster of the
environment in this state. From our land resources we are losing 48 to 68
square miles of agricultural land each year. We are not going to have an
ag economy left at this rate. We need some kind of rational, reasonable
growth policies so we're not using up our prime ag land and can focus in
our urban areas and the suburbs. I'm running because the roads are a
disaster, particularly down in southeastern Michigan.

I'm running because there has not been enough attention to education.
We're at the bottom in class sizes in terms of where we rate as a state.
The same goes for school construction. Educators need to be respected once
again and not used as whipping posts by the governor. In my opinion,
teachers and public employees deserve to be able to form a union and
bargain for a contract. I've seen the state slide too much since I left
the state legislature. I'd like to change the culture here.

I've got this idea that we are on the edge of an environmental age. We've
had the agricultural age, the industrial age, the information/technology
age - the planet is in pretty bad shape. Everywhere I go I see land
problems, air problems, water problems, asthma problems increasing for
people all over the planet. We have the technologies available here in the
United States and Ontario to clean up this mess. We are going to be forced
to do it. It's coming, it's happening.

As governor I would like to bring those businesses in and partner with our
state and university systems. I would like this to be to us like Silicon
Valley was to the information age. I would like Michigan to be that for
the environmental age. I think that can be done. There are already a
couple of places doing wonderful things in this state with environmental
conversion strategies in Detroit. They're working on better gas mileage
for autos and motorcycles. They have a solar shingle that you can buy that
will take care of your electrical needs. We've got companies that make
light bulbs now that are so much more efficient. There are companies that
do laser work and clean up PCB's in water that we have never had before.

I'd like to corral all of those folks into this state and say to them,
"You locate here and we'll create an environment for you to flourish at
our universities. We'll give you tax incentives to come here. We'll make
this state a laboratory."

We've got 11,000 inland lakes here and they are all filled with mercury. I
got my fishing license the other day and it stated that basically you
can't eat the fish here if you are a pregnant woman or under 15. We've got
air and water problems that we need to work on. We've got all the pieces
here including the industrial areas of Flint, Saginaw, and Detroit. There
are all kinds of things you can do in this state to make it a better
place, using those technologies and techniques to sell our resources
around the world. That's what I want to do and work hard at it.

NE: How much time do you actually spend in Michigan with your hectic

Bonior: Since I announced my candidacy for governor, I've been going seven
days a week, 14 hours a day. I'll give you an example of my schedule:
After this interview (on a Sunday morning) I will go to church with Bart
Stupak (U.S. House Rep. from Michigan). Then I will go over to the college
for the fundraiser barbeque. At 1:00 I will take a plane from Traverse
City to Detroit. I will attend a meeting and then speak at a Democratic
dinner tonight in Oakland County. Afterward, I will jump on a plane and
fly back to Northern Michigan and get in about 1:00 a.m. and speak to
letter carriers tomorrow morning. I'll then fly back down to Flint and
meet with union workers at an office there. Finally, I will get back on a
plane to Washington D.C. where we will meet and have session tomorrow
evening. It is very overwhelming, actually.

Normally, we meet on Tuesday in Washington for votes so I leave Michigan
about 2:00 or 3:00 pm for the voting. Since I leave Thursday night for
Michigan, most of my week is in Michigan. I am the Whip of my party so I'm
not sure how long I can retain those duties while running for governor. It
is a demanding journey: a big state, many people to meet, a lot of things
to become familiar with.

NE: Who would you say is the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination in
Bonior: It is too early to really say for sure but I think there are three
of us. The polls show Blanchard ahead with about 33%, Granholm with about
32%, and I have about 19% of the votes. There is no dynamic in the race
yet. A lot of people aren't focused. I'm not very well known outside of my
district. Though I have served in Congress for over 25 years, they have
represented the whole state as attorney general and former governor. I'm
satisfied where we are now and I think it is going to be a really close,
three person race to the end.

NE: How are you different from the other Democratic candidates?
Bonior: First of all, Blanchard and Granholm are corporate lawyers. I'm
not a lawyer. I don't come out of that category. Also, these water
problems have been around awhile. The drilling (oil under the Great Lakes)
occurred during the Blanchard administration. The permits occurred during
the Blanchard administration that allowed sewage to be dumped in our
streams and rivers and closed the beaches on our lakes.

I am a strong proponent of fair trade and opposed to NAFTA and the China
trade deal. I think Blanchard's position on those things is different than
mine. He was part of the administration that supported the North American
Free Trade Agreement. It is important because those trade agreements
didn't have environmental protection. They didn't have labor protections
and as a result many of our factories have moved out of our state and down
into Mexico and other places where they don't pay good wages or worry
about the environment. So, Blanchard and I differ on some very fundamental
things here. With Granholm, it's hard to pin her down on these issues.

NE: Do you think that you think you differ with Blanchard on Michigan's
economic direction considering how high the income tax rate rose during
his last administration?
Bonior: I don't want to criticize him for the tax rate because the state
was in pretty bad shape at that time.

NE: What do you think of President Bush's energy plan?
Bonior: Not very much. It's a nineteenth century energy plan with a heavy
reliance on fossil fuels. It's drill, drill, drill. It's also warmed-over
rhetoric on conservation and technology improvements. There is really no
impetus there. In fact, if you look at his budget, he cut solar by 54%, he
cut wind energy by 48% - this is the research and tax credits for these
areas. We have this partnership of new generations of vehicles that we put
together with the auto companies to get them to move so we could have some
decent mileage standards and air standards. It was finally starting to pay
off because the hybrids were going to start coming on line in a
year-and-a-half. One of the first things Bush did was cut that program.

I don't think there is enough reliance on conservation and new
technologies. There is no environmental sensitivity at all. His policy
seems to be to pay back his oil friends and oil interests. He wants to
drill in the ANWR (Alaska) where I have been and camped on the north slope
of Brooks Range. It is an incredibly beautiful place and very fragile.
Right next to ANWR is Prudhomme Bay where they are drilling and about 10%
of the wellheads there are leaking. So, there are no assurances that we
won't have a problem up there for a relatively small amount of oil.

Of course, Bush supports policies to drill in the Great Lakes. He and the
governor are close and have a policy of drilling their way out of this
thing. That's wrong in terms of environmental sensitivities that we should
be aware of here and also because I don't think that is the answer. The
answer is to lessen our dependence on fossils and to move ahead in some
areas where there is promise of better savings.

I think the profits of these oil companies are outrageous. These Texas
companies that are wholesaling energy to California are reaping enormous,
enormous profits. These are all Chaney and Bush's buddies. If I had my
choice I would cap what they could charge but give them a profit. The
democratic energy program caps profits at 13%. They are making 100%
profits right now. They are putting people out of business. They are
putting small businesses out of business because of the cost. So, I'm not
very excited by the administration's energy proposal.

NE: Is there anything in the plan you would support?
Bonior: Bush is talking about doing some things in terms of conservation
but it depends upon what he puts behind it. Talk is one thing, whether you
devote the resources to make it happen is another. We'll see. Overall, the
policy is bad because it conveys that we can drill our way out of this
problem and you can't nor should you. These natural resources are not
infinite. They're finite. People have to realize that.

In this state we have had a history of people coming in and despoiling our
state. In the 1700's the Astors came in and raked off the animals and
birds and sent them to Europe. Then, a hundred years later the timber
barons came in and stripped this state of all of its lumber. It was used
to build this country but nevertheless this state used to be 17/18 forest.
It was only in the 1930's that we began replanting with the CCC. For
second growth, we planted about 465 million trees in that period.

Then the mineral people came up north. Now they want our water. There is a
huge effort on the part of people to go after our most precious resource
outside of our children -water. That is what defines us as a state, as a
people here. That is the kind of mentality that Bush and Engler have -
going after these resources without any understanding of how important
they are to the economic life and natural beauty of our state. What will
tourism be like if we put up oil rigs along the shorelines? I think it
would suffer. People don't want to come here to look at derricks. They
want to see dunes, water, and lighthouses.

NE: Do you think Bush's plan will pass?
Bonior: Some of it will pass. Some of it won't. I don't think the drilling
in ANWR will pass. We've got enough votes to stop that. The investment in
alternative energy, appliances, cars, and other things may pass.

NE: I know you and Bart Stupak are sponsoring legislation to ban drilling
under the Great Lakes. Considering the administration's energy plan, what
do you think the chances are it will pass?
Bonior: We don't control the Congress. The Republicans control it. They
control the legislature. They are, for the most part, for doing these
things. I think the governor wants to go ahead with expanding up to 30
drilling sites. Look, when I am elected governor, we will not have
drilling in the Great Lakes.

We won't be selling our water or allow it to be sold. We'll do everything
we can to stop garbage coming in from Canada, New York, and New Jersey. We
have trucks that cross over the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit and the Blue
Water Bridge in Port Huron every ten minutes. These are huge trucks and we
don't know what's in them. They are filled with garbage that is coming in
from out of the east in Toronto. They are burying it in Michigan. Let them
take care of their own garbage. This is not a dumping ground, it's a
beautiful state.

As governor of this state, I won't allow that to happen. We will find ways
to make it impossible for them to come in and do this.

NE: The Bush tax plan has bi-partisan support and seems to be on the fast
track for passage into law. Will you support it?
Bonior: No. The tax plan is very shortsighted. It's geared to the
wealthiest individuals in the country at the expense of working people. If
you are a single mom making 25 grand with a couple of kids, you are not
going to get anything out of this tax cut. Most of the benefits go to the
very top 1% of the people in our country at the expense of investment in
education, the environment, health care, and paying down the debt.

I'm for a tax cut. I am for one that is more equally distributed and not
as large as this one so we can have the resources to pay down the national
debt, to invest in education.

NE: Why have a tax cut at all?
Bonior: I think it is important to give some resources back to the people
in times of surplus. It can be helpful if it reaches the right people
because then it can be used as a stimulus. I don't want to overstate that
because it would be relatively small in terms of its stimulus effect. It's
keeping faith with what people expect.

We have a lot of investments and I want to make sure they are taken care
of, too. We have to redo our whole sewer system in this country and no one
thinks about that. It is not a sexy issue. Sewers are important because,
without the proper sewer construction and separation, we're going to
continue to have beach closings. They won't be able to retain and separate
the flow of raw sewage and storm sewage in times of heavy rains. As a
result of that, you get discharges. The governor has allowed discharges
through the permit process into our rivers, streams and drains which go
into our lakes.

In my part of the state a lot of the beaches on lakes have been closed.
So, we have to do sewer construction and that is very expensive. The bill
to upgrade our sewers in metro Detroit over the next 30 years is going to
be upward of $50 billion.

I am for some tax cuts for people, but I don't want to go into debt over
it in case the economy tanks which is possible. We don't know what is
going to happen to the economy two or three years from now. We are better
off being prudent by paying down the debt, investing in our
infrastructure, investing in education, and dividing some of that small
relief back to people.

NE: Would you say that there is more bi-partisanship and civility in
Congress since the new administration took over?
Bonior: No, I wouldn't say so. I think they have talked a good game about
bi-partisanship and civility. We are civil and talk to each other. We
don't throw bombs at each other but we have different points of view.
That's what Congress is for, to argue out those points of view. We are
talking about issues that create passionate discussion. What are we going
to do about our resources, education, the environment, mental health.
These things should generate passionate and sometimes heated discussion.
That is what democracy is about it's a vital piece of it. So, people
should not feel that it is something to be avoided. It is what it is
supposed to do.

Bi-partisanship, no. There is one issue that they (Republicans) have
tried - education. They have actually made an effort to work with us on
that to some degree. I don't want to overstate that but there has been
some effort there. Beyond that, Bush and the Republicans have said, "It's
my way or no way at all." They just push everything they wanted through at
least in the House, that is the way it has been.

NE: This is more than a little off the subject what do think are the
chances are the Cuban Embargo being eliminated?
Bonior: It would be hard with this Congress and this president. I favor
that. I am not big on economic embargos. The one in Iraq has been a
disaster. There are 50,000 children who die prematurely in Iraq every
year. We are changing our policy, now. I actually talked to Colin Powell
briefly about doing that when he first took office.

In terms of Cuba, I think we should change our policy as well but I don't
think it will happen under this administration or a Republican Congress.
problem is his brother (Jeb Bush) is up for election in Florida so it's
not going to happen under Bush.

NE: What is this I hear about you writing a book?
Bonior: It's called Walking to Mackinac. I wrote it over that last three
years. My wife and I each kept a journal. It is one of the reasons why I
am running for governor. The trip made me think about our whole state. The
beauty of it, the wonderful people we met along the way, and the rich
history that it has. My wife edited the book using both of our journals.
It is being published by the University of Michigan Press and coming out
early in June. It is in the genre of Peter Jenkins' book "A Walk Across
America." We walked from Mt. Clemens to the Mackinac Bridge. We had a
backpack, tent, and sleeping bag and did about 18 miles a day over three
weeks. It rained like hell 2/3 of the days. It was one of those wet

NE: What do you think of Bill Clinton, personally?
Bonior: First of all, I don't agree with his personal behavior when he was
president. Beyond that I think he was a remarkable individual in terms of
the way he communicated with people, the attention he would give one on
one when you were with him. You could be a Senator, a member of  Congress,
or shining shoes somewhere and he would engage you and he would take from
you. He was a person who learned by engaging with people and listening to
people. He was quite amazing that way. I've never seen anyone in politics
who had that ability like he did and that includes John Kennedy. Clinton
would really focus in on you. If we were sitting here talking he would ask
you questions, he would listen, he would learn. He would be curious about
what is going on in your head and why are you saying these things and what
are you all about. It wouldn't matter who he was with, he was quite
remarkable that way.

He is a very bright man and his record, outside of the personal problems
he had, was quite amazing. The economy was enormously strong and he did
some wonderful things in other areas. And he had to work with a mostly
Republican Congress. I give him a B, maybe a B+ in terms of handling his

NE: What do you think his legacy will be?
Bonior: I think it will be that he presided over a major transition in our
economic life, moving from an industrial to information age economy. He
will probably be remembered for the problems he had personally while in
office. In the end he will be remembered for some very good things he did
for the environment, some excellent things in education 100,000 teachers,
100,000 cops program. He authored the Family and Medical Leave Act. He did
some very positive things. We had peace and prosperity for the most part
during Clinton's years.

NE: Do you think Al Gore will be the Democratic nominee in 2004?
Bonior: I don't know. I was with him the other night and we were talking
but we didn't get into that. I told him we needed his voice in this debate
on energy and the environment. He just feels he needs to give the
President a little space but I wouldn't give him any more space. I think
he has had his little honeymoon (Bush) and it is time for people to say,
"Wait a minute." If we give him too much space there is not going to be
any land left. So, I don't know if he is going to run again for sure but
my guess is the answer to that is "yes." We'll find that out probably next

Right now he's teaching and spending time with his family. He's teaching
at Fiske and Middle Tennessee State. He just finished up at Dartmouth. He
is just going around having experiences in higher education.

We're pretty close (Gore and Bonior). We were elected to Congress together
25 years ago. We are very good friends socially and did a lot of athletics
together as young adults. What could happen, if I was elected governor and
I think I will be, and Gore is elected President I would have a good
connection to the White House and it would be very helpful for Michigan.

NE: Would you ever have any aspirations to be President?
Bonior: No (laughing), if I ever had any inkling in that direction, my
wife would tie me up in my home and not let me out.

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