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Governor Doyle Should Support DNR Secretary Selection By Board

January 8, 2009

Many of us still recall how we felt when the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board was stripped of their ability to pick the head of the department.   With Governor Tommy Thompson sitting in the East Wing at that time, many might recall the concern people had over the integrity of the DNR, and the overly politicized role that the change might have on the state.

The issue of returning the duty of selecting the head of the DNR back to the board has long been a topic of conversation.  Some argue that the rationale for making the change while a Democrat is in office is less compelling.  I strongly disagree.  Thankfully, so do many in the Wisconsin Legislature.

The need to safeguard Wisconsin’s natural resources, and develop policies that will protect and foster them, is more important than allowing any politician to use the DNR for electoral purposes.  The problem is not whether it is Tommy Thompson or Jim Doyle holding power in the state, rather it is the ability of any governor to use the DNR for political purposes.  Also of vital importance is not allowing outside interests to sway the hand of a governor to make a secretary selection based on politics, rather than sound resources policy.

It is for that reason that the Natural Resources Board, starting in 1927, worked to insure that the loftier goals of managing the state’s resources should be kept from the hands of any governor.  At one time I truly think that Jim Doyle thought that was the best way to continue the work of the DNR.  But after having had the reins of power for many years as governor, which presently includes the ability to name the head of the DNR,  Doyle now has problems with relinquishing that power.  That needs to change.

The power to do what is best for Wisconsin is now in the hands of the state legislature.  Both houses are controlled by Democrats, and a bill to once again allow for the DNR Board to make the selection for secretary should be considered, and passed this session.  Doyle needs to be mindful of the consequences of not signing it.  In short, Wisconsin Manufactures and Commerce who would love to see this issue remain unchanged.

Deep-pocketed WMC loves to have as much power as possible over the DNR, and the governor who makes the selection of secretary.  If there was a return of the board having the final say for secretary selection, this powerful lobbying group would again have a much reduced say in the process.  Having WMC with less control over those in power best serves the general public of Wisconsin.  The goals of WMC mostly run counter to the long-term environmental needs of the state.  The proof of that is their fear that  this change at the DNR will become law.

There is no sound policy reason that this change should not be made.  For decades our state benefited by the board making the selection of DNR Secretary.  Only pure politics undid that process, and only pure politics is preventing the return of the board from again making the selection.

It is time for the state legislature to act, and the governor to get his pen ready to sign it into law.

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