Christian Schneider

Author, Columnist

Redefining “The Public”

In July, having completed the Herculean task of driving the state deeper into deficit, Wisconsin lawmakers sought respite in their home districts for the summer.  Now they have returned, to take up much weightier issues, most notably figuring out who gets the run the  Department of Natural Resources.

Currently, the DNR secretary is picked by the Governor to oversee the state’s environmental policy.  This wasn’t always the case, as the DNR Board of Supervisors used to pick the secretary (George Meyer was the last board-appointed leader, until Governor Tommy Thompson signed a law giving himself the authority to pick.)

Now, with Democrats in full control of all branches of state government, environmentalists are applying a full court press to have the law changed back to board-controlled appointment power.  They believe that if the board picks the secretary, somehow they will be less “political” than if the governor picks.  Because, as we all know, the Sierra Club (who would essentially then control the board) is above politics.

Today, several environmental groups (Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, Wisconsin Conservation Congress) issued a press release which proves the “public” supports granting the DNR board appointment authority.  The list contains the names of 270 various conservation groups across the state who are supposedly on board with the law change (and as we know, the Legislature generally does whatever the Wisconsin Muzzleloaders Association asks.)

Of course, some would consider these groups attempting to influence state legislation to be “special interest groups.”  But not campaign finance watchdog Mike McCabe of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign – who has already come out in favor of the legislation.  You see, the the WDC, “special interests” are merely “groups that push conservative legislation.”  Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce is a special interest – the Sierra Club is “the public.”

McCabe has spent years railing against groups who conceal their campaign donors and attempt to influence state legislation.  Yet here we have a list of 270 such groups attempting to gain control of the DNR secretary, and you’ll hear deafening silence from the so-called “good government” groups. (It has been pointed out time and again on this blog that McCabe’s group itself is a special interest that conceals its donors and attempts to push state legislation – such as a single payer health program.)

So I anxiously await the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign press release decrying this special interest influence, and calling on the Wisconsin Sharptailed Grouse Society to open their books for public scrutiny.  Holding my breath.

It just goes to show that this bill has nothing to do with saving the air, water, and fish, and has everything to do with which humans get to order us around.  There’s a long way between appointment authority and cleaner water.

1 Comment

  1. You’re probably too young to remember how the DNR performed over the decades that the board appointed the secretary. If you did, you’d know a diffusion of political interests made the agency work as well as it ever has.

    While the board members were still political animals, they didn’t get specific marching orders from the Democrats or the Republicans.

    Yes, John Lawton was a good Democrat, but he was a better trout fisherman. Bud Jordahl went back to the days of Gaylord Nelson, and loved the outdoors as much as Gaylord. Pete Helland was a friend of Warren Knowles and an appointee of Tommy Thompson’s, but he put the environment first.

    DNR secretaries were remarkably insulated from politics, and the environment was the beneficiary.

    It was Les Voigt’s son who played ball, not Les. Buzz Besadny was about as straight a shooter as the sniper who shot the pirate. George Meyer earned the respect of Wisconsin citizens by enforcing environmental laws — the anti-pollution and the fish-and-game laws — evenhandedly.

    For three decades, I saw how hard the board members worked, and how much they cared.

    How would the Chippewa spearfishing controversy have played out if the governor had been in charge of the DNR? Would a DNR secretary have been fired by the board for enforcing air pollution laws?

    The public was well served by the limited political insulation that the law afforded the DNR, and afforded DNR employees and secretaries.

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