The news that former Congressman and state legislator Vern Ehlers has passed away prompts reflection as well as sadness.
A Republican, Vern was also a conservationist. During a time when I worked for a Democratic governor and he chaired the State Senate’s environmental committee, he collaborated on significant state environmental legislation. He was often the author of it, or improved our work.
I remember sitting in his office discussing amendments to a bill while he successfully toyed with a Rubik’s cube and cracked bad puns. Opponents and members of the Democratic Party were treated in his office with respect and dignity.
When he moved to Congress, he championed Great Lakes cleanup and restoration and got the ball rolling on big-time cleanup of contaminated sediment.
What has happened to Vern’s brand of Republicanism — civil, science-friendly (he was a physicist) and committed to advancing environmental protection? It is not just the Republican Party’s loss, it is everyone’s loss that there are few Verns today.
On the bad pun front, there is this from the floor debate in the State Senate in 1987 on his bill making the brook trout the official state fish: “”I’m glad the Senate did not flounder around on this bill. I recognize it’s not the sole issue before us. I’m glad no one took me for a sucker.” It was a halibut statement.