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Mourning the loss of one of Ohio’s great Lake Erie champions

Kristy Meyer, June 16, 2016

Sunday morning I woke to news of the passing of former Mayor, Governor, and U.S. Senator George Voinovich.

I first met George Voinovich when I was 15. I was with a friend in a toy store. My friend and I went back and forth as to whether or not it was really Governor Voinovich. I finally ended up asking and leaving quickly, 50 shades of red. Years later, then Senator Voinovich and I had a good chuckle about this experience.

Who knew that day in the toy store that I was speaking with a man I would come to know and work alongside. In 2007, Senator Voinovich and I started to work closely together on the Great Lakes Compact. During this time the Ohio General Assembly was in the throws of debating the Compact’s passage, which had to be passed as written – word for word.

The Compact is a binding agreement between the 8 Great Lakes states prohibiting Great Lakes water from leaving the watershed, with some exceptions, as well as guiding how the waters within the Great Lakes watershed would be managed. It is one of the most important things I’ve ever worked on in my career.

Each state at that time had passed the Great Lakes Compact, except for Ohio. What many people do not know is that Senator Voinovich played a big part in the passage of the Great Lakes Compact in Ohio. Senator Voinovich and I worked together to strategically move the Great Lakes Compact through the Ohio General Assembly. He made calls, sent letters, and held one-on-one meetings to shepherd the Compact through the Ohio Senate. On June 27, 2008 the hard work of Senator Voinovich and so many others was celebrated on the shores of Lake Erie when Governor Ted Strickland signed the Great Lakes Compact into law in Ohio. It still needed to be ratified by Congress, however.

I remember Senator Voinovich stating he wanted the passage of the Great Lakes Compact to be a legacy for him. I would argue he succeeded. On August 1, 2008 Senator Voinovich successfully moved the ratification of the Great Lakes Compact through the U.S. Senate with a unanimous vote. President George Bush signed the Great Lakes Compact into law on October 3, 2008.

Senator Voinovich always spoke about the “second battle of Lake Erie.” The first battle was in the 60s and 70s when we were literally trying to revive a “dead lake.” Although we made a lot of progress, we’re once again fighting to save the Lake, from both new and old threats.

Senator Voinovich jumped head first into this second battle, as he did during the first battle, because he loved our Great Lake. He once told me that if he could level the house across the street from him he could see Lake Erie. He and his wife Janet would spend many evenings watching the sun slip into Lake Erie. Senator Voinovich did not just see Lake Erie as economic driver and job producer; he also saw it as an awesome wonder of nature. His love for the Lake is why he worked so hard to protect and restore the Lake with the passage of the Great Lakes Compact, banning drilling for oil and gas below the Great Lakes, and fighting invasive Asian carp.

If you have ever seen Senator Voinovich speak, you know that he ends his speeches with a rallying call and his fist in the air. While his call will not be heard again, those he inspired will continue to fight the “second battle of Lake Erie.”

Thank you Senator Voinovich for your dedication and love to Lake Erie and the millions of Ohioans that depend on the Lake for drinking water, work, or play. Your passing was felt throughout our community. Our thoughts and hearts are with your family, and friends during these difficult days. May time heal their pain and they find comfort in each other during this time. You may be gone, but you left a long legacy in Ohio. I will sincerely miss you.