Midterm elections fundamentally shape the future of outdoor recreation within the Detroit region and across the United States. As Americans head to the polls today, each outdoor enthusiast should consider the lessons learned from recent elections - especially the key bipartisan factors that have led to historic protection for our great outdoors.
Midterm Elections Matter. If you've opened your social media feed any time over the last month, you've most likely stumbled across this message an unfathomable number of times. That apparent platitude keeps popping up because it rings absolutely true - especially when it comes to the protection and expansion of outdoor recreation opportunities in your township, state, and country.
We at Expedition Detroit are not in the candidate-endorsement business. We are in the outdoor business, and both sides of the political aisle have consistently proposed landmark legislation aimed towards furthering the best interests of our natural resources. We support or attack interests and policies, not parties or people.
Spoiler alert: the most constructive, protective, and beneficial interests, policies, and actions have resulted from bipartisan collaboration. Unfortunately - or should I say shamefully - midterm elections often result in a primetime showcase for divisive politics, which produce formidable stumbling blocks for meaningful action down the road.
That aspect of midterms alone highlights their utmost importance for our region and country.
Why are Midterm Elections So Important?
If you take a quick glance at the number of seats up for grabs, it will take all of 2 seconds to recognize the immense importance of today's elections. There are 36 governor seats, 30 state attorneys general positions, 86 state supreme court seats, 34 U.S. Senate seats, and ALL 435 U.S. House of Representatives seats are up for election. In addition, 84% of state legislators are on the ballot, including all of Michigan's State Senate and House seats. Oh, and don't forget the legions of local elections that are taking place across the nation.
Stated differently, the vast majority of America's political power is in play today, with several "battleground states" like Michigan capturing most of the media's attention. But beyond the number of seats that are up for grabs, there's another figure that's even more significant regarding the long-term influence of today's results: voter turnout.
Compared to the general presidential election, midterm elections have consistently drawn out fewer voters over the last 40 years. This trend emphasizes the influence and power behind each and every casted vote - especially if you have more moderate political leanings, which in our humble opinion are the most important votes to be cast.
Why is that? Well, in tandem with the trend showing decreasing midterm election participation, an inverse trend showing increased participation from polarizing political groups has also emerged. Since 1994, the distance between "average" republicans and democrats along the political spectrum has broadened significantly. While the majority of Americans do fall within the median points of these two "averages,"the most ideologically polarized and politically rancorous Americans have consistently made their voices heard through greater participation in every stage of the political process - especially during midterms when moderate voters tend to stay home.
To summarize, midterm elections have historically enabled the most fringe, polarizing Americans to disproportionately elect the vast majority of our government. That's a horrifying reality of our modern democracy. That's the genesis of our collective "How did it come to this??" thoughts during the bloodbaths of the 2016 and 2020 general elections.
Thankfully, this cycle of political toxicity does not have to repeat itself. Our country's fate is not signed and sealed, especially when our elected officials have proven even recently that bipartisan collaboration results in meaningful action.
When Politics Actually Works for Protecting the Outdoors
Despite the divisiveness that we've grown numb to, recent history has proven that the adoption of effective, collaborative, and bipartisan action can and should be an expectation that us as voters maintain - especially when it comes to our great outdoors.
On the federal level, Congresses presiding under both the Trump and Biden Administrations have delivered several impactful, bipartisan bills aimed towards providing lasting protection for our natural environment. Dating back to 2019, both sides of the aisle effectively sponsored and passed the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act, which designated more than 1,300,000 acres of wilderness area, expanded several national parks and other areas of the National Park System, and established four new national monuments while re-designating others. Similarly, the bipartisan and monumental Great American Outdoors Act of 2020 fully and permanently funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and as well as provides $1.9 billion annually to remedy maintenance backlog at American national parks.
Most recently, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2022 provides a textbook example of impactful, bipartisan collaboration on a landmark bill. This bill demonstrates the best of political action: it will not only rebuild crumbling roads, bridges, and airports, but also improve the infrastructure behind our beloved natural resources and their corresponding outdoor recreation experiences. The bill's material investments in transportation, mitigation of and adaptation to climate change’s impacts on our public lands and waters, rural development, and natural infrastructure are primed to connect more recreationists to the outdoors and strengthen the estimated $887 billion outdoor recreation economy.
For Michigan, the 2018 midterm election also had both a direct and indirect beneficial impact on the state of our outdoors. In 2019, the Whitmer Administration led Michigan to become one of 16 states that are members of the bipartisan Outdoor Recreation Industry Confluence Accords, an agreement among the participating states to collaborate on fostering conservation and stewardship values, ensuring environmental quality, and restoring sustainable access to the outdoors for current and future generations. The Whitmer Administration concurrently created Michigan's first Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry, which works in tandem with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and the Outdoor Recreation Advisory Council to expand Michigan’s growing $26.6 billion outdoor recreation economy.
The Power of Your Vote
So...where does your vote fit into this equation? Beyond actively fighting against the trend of decreasing midterm participation by voting, we respectfully request that you #VoteTheOutdoors by completing the following simple tasks before going to the polls:
Research each candidate's position on the outdoors and natural environment. Vote411.org provides a fantastic online resource that compares each candidate's policies and priorities, including line items specifically on the environment and social justice.
Encourage friends and family to vote - regardless of their political leanings. If you remember anything from this article, I sincerely hope that it's that bipartisan collaboration has the greatest likelihood of enacting impactful legislation. America's fundamental political problems are not grounded in a single party; they derive from the extremes of both parties, spurred on by polarizing candidates typically elected during midterm elections. The tyranny of the extremes has produced the agonizing gridlock that has killed countless opportunities for impactful action.
The "Outdoor State" comprises of republicans, democrats, independents, libertarians, and every one else across the political spectrum. The best outcome from today that we can all collectively hope for is that we elect leaders that are willing to collaborate with their colleagues towards producing and effectuating meaningful action for our outdoors. That outcome can only be realized if we make our voices heard and our votes count.
While the results of the 2022 Midterm Elections remain unknown as I type these final words, I can guarantee you that Expedition Detroit will continue to operate in line with our core values. Our content, advocacy, and fundamental operations will always seek to facilitate the expansion, inclusion, and protection of outdoor recreation opportunities in the Detroit region.
See you at the polls, my friends.