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Wisconsin Governor Doyle Wrong To Keep DNR Secretary In Cabinet

March 4, 2009

Conservationists had held out hope that Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle would reverse direction, and allow the Natural Resources Board to again appoint the head of the Department of Natural Resources.  In spite of campaign promises during each of his races for governor, a decision has been made by Doyle to keep the secretary position in the cabinet.

That is a shame.  Only WMC is smiling tonight.

Not only does Governor Doyle backtrack on a very important campaign promise, but he also exposes the ability of executive power to erode the sensibilities of his once correct position on the issue. 

So many of us recall how we felt when Governor Tommy Thompson removed the board’s power to appoint, and instead made the DNR secretary a political pick by placing his selection in his cabinet.  Many in the state were angry, and concerned about the integrity of the DNR with such a change.  I still recall the discussions about what impact a more politicized process would have in shaping DNR policy. 

My position has long been, in regard to this issue, that it was not a matter of whether a Democrat or Republican held the state’s highest office, but  whether Wisconsin’s natural resources were safeguarded during the process of developing state policies.  The process that Governor Doyle now embraces is one where, whether he admits it or not, a more politicized process and outcome is guaranteed.  Who among my readers does not feel, regardless of  which political party sits in the East Wing, that outside special interests will not try to sway the selection of DNR secretary in a governor’s cabinet?  Who among the conservationists in our state does not believe that this process will place politics ahead of sound resource policy at critical junctures?

All these years I had counted Jim Doyle to be in agreement with the position that the Natural Resources Board was the most qualified and legitimate group to select the head of the DNR.    After all, starting in 1927 the Natural Resources Board worked to insure that the loftier goals of managing the state’s resources should be kept from the hands of any governor.  I felt that Doyle made a commitment to me, and my fellow citizens when he campaigned on this issue.  While I am dismayed at the news of Doyle’s decision to reverse course, I can not say I am shocked.  After all, it is hard for the executive branch to give up power it holds.

I can guarantee Governor Doyle it would have made him look much stronger if he had relegated this power to the Natural Resources Board.  By retreating on this issue, and back-peddling to appease those he felt he had to bend to only makes him more a politician, and less a leader.

That does not serve him, or the citizenry, well.

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.

One Comment
  1. jayne permalink
    March 5, 2009 5:25 PM

    Jim Doyle came to the conservation community numerous times and asked for our support of his candidacy and his policies. One thing he promised, said it was his top consevation priority, was the return to an independent DNR. I was at the Conservation Congress meeting and asked him about this, twice. It appears he was able to look me straight in the eye and lie. Power corrupts and I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by that. Nonetheless I am hugely disappointed.

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