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Great Lakes lawmakers dangle electoral votes for promises of federal lakes protection

State lawmakers from four Great Lakes states said Thursday it's time presidential candidates paid more attention to the region, and they dangled 141 electoral votes as bait to lure the candidates' interest.

State lawmakers from four Great Lakes states said Thursday it's time presidential candidates paid more attention to the region, and they dangled 141 electoral votes as bait to lure the candidates' interest.

Legislators from Minnesota, Illinois, New York and Michigan on Thursday said Democratic and Republican presidential candidates should be compelled before Super Tuesday to take a stand to help the region.

More than one-fourth of the party delegates that will be awarded in Tuesday's primaries and caucuses are in Great Lakes states.

And across the eight Great Lakes states, 141 electoral votes -- one-half of those needed to become president -- are up for the taking. The region includes five swing states that experts say could fall to either party in the November presidential election.

That should cause candidates to take notice of the demands of the region's residents -- and those residents want the lakes protected, said Minnesota state Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope.

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Rest said the federal government should provide money not only to help bolster Great Lakes restoration, but also to encourage the eight states to quickly pass a legally binding compact that would protect the lakes from diversions. So far, only two states -- Minnesota and Illinois -- have approved the compact. The Bush administration has taken no stand on the issue of Great Lakes water diversions.

Rest joined state Rep. Karen May (D-Ill.), Sen. George Maziarz (R-N.Y) and Sen. Patty Birkholz (R-Mich.) on Thursday in sending a letter to each of the leading presidential candidates in both parties urging them to support the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact and to implement the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy.

Jeff Skelding, national director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, said it's time to get the candidates on the record pledging to fight against invasive species, sewage overflows, declining fish populations, mercury pollution, habitat loss and potential water diversions to arid areas.

"Will you use your leadership as president to restore the Great Lakes, and ban water diversions?" Skelding asked of the candidates.

Skelding noted that, despite proposing a massive Great Lakes restoration collaborative that was announced in Duluth in 2005, the Bush administration and Congress so far have failed to provide money for most of the projects proposed.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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