Great Lakes environmental junkies know the big names credited with major policy decisions that affect the basin: administration folks like the EPA’s Lisa Jackson, President Obama’s Great Lakes Czar Cameron Davis; legislators like Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, Wisconsin Rep. David Obey and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley; and advocates like the National Wildlife Federation Great Lakes center executive director Andy Buchsbaum and author Dave Dempsey.
But who are the people behind the names that keep the Great Lakes gears grinding? We enlisted the help of some of our sources to determine “The Five Great Lakes Policy Players You Don’t Know.”
We waded – completely unscientifically, mind you – through dozens of suggestions to choose five individuals. And we’ll highlight one each Friday for the next five weeks.
Note: Our five are not in any specific order. And there are surely some important people we’ve overlooked, or who didn’t make the final cut. Leave a comment and tell us what you think, or who we missed.
The quiet unifier
If President Barack Obama signs legislation that supersizes the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative – a program that this year provided $475 million for the Great Lakes – Joy Mulinex’s name won’t be on the bill.
But her fingerprints will be all over it.
The director since 2001 of the bipartisan Senate and House Great Lakes Task Force, Mulinex helps coordinate, educate and inform members of Congress from the region. She sets up briefings, circulates information, prepares group letters, tracks funding and drafts legislation relating to all things Great Lakes.
That’s the job description. But cut to the chase and ask people to explain why Mulinex’s behind-the-scenes work is critical to Great Lakes progress.
“She is the eyes, ears and go-to person on Capital Hill,” says Chad Lord, policy director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. “She is kind of that central pivot place where you can go and can always rely on her to know what’s going on as it relates to Great Lakes issues.”
“She’s the go-to person – the first stop,” says Andy Buchsbaum, director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes center.
Finding success when working with Congress often comes down to who you know, says Tim Eder, executive director of the Great Lakes Commission, “and Joy is extremely well connected. She seems to know everybody. And she’s always accessible.”
Mulinex works for Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and George Voinovich, R-Ohio, the co-chairs of the task force. The two senators recently introduced the Great Lakes Ecosystem Protection Act, a bill that would bundle an additional $175 million annually in project funding to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and guarantee it for the next five years. Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-Mich.) introduced the House version. Supporters are optimistic the bills will move through committee in the next couple months.
As with all Great Lakes Congressional issues, Mulinex has been instrumental in developing and championing those bills, Lord says. She assembled stakeholders, including from the Healing Our Waters Coalition, and the Great Lakes Commission, and hosted conference calls to map out how the legislation should look.
“[Mulinex] was very skilled and very successful at hearing everybody’s comments and being able to translate that voice into text,” Lord says.
Levin said bipartisan support is necessary to move almost anything through Congress, “and Joy’s work is essential to making that happen.”
The Great Lakes are respected as a non-partisan issue – something that both parties care deeply about, Eder says. And while Mulinex works out of Levin’s office, she’s particularly adept at working between both sides of the aisle.
“She is really well connected and well respected throughout Congress as being a non-partisan player,” he says. “She commands the respect of Democrats and Republicans alike.”
Eder says Mulinex is skilled at navigating appropriations procedures, helping to secure hundreds of millions of dollars for Great Lakes programs every year.
“She understands the arcane nature of the legislative process,” he says. And she is great at gathering support from members and getting them to sign onto support legislation.
Lord says Great Lakes proposals are often successful in Congress because they are “championed by a unified region. There isn’t a lot of controversy.”
The unified voice of the Great Lakes doesn’t happen without the quiet, effective work of Mulinex. And it’s work that you won’t notice unless you frequent the halls of Congress.
“She doesn’t seek publicity,” Eder says. “Her job is to help get publicity for the members of Congress for whom she serves.”
If the Great Lakes Ecosystem Protection Act is passed, it will be a win for the region, and for certain members of Congress. Mulinex’s bosses will likely stand next to Obama when he signs the bill. Mulinex may be on hand, but she won’t get the credit.
But maybe she should.
“She’s really dedicated to the Great Lakes,” Lord says. “And that dedication is not often recognized.”