Mainstream Wisconsin vs. Governing Conservatives
It has been quite a week for watching the evolution of ideas in the Wisconsin State Legislature while also following the actual governing practices of elected officials. If you love politics, as I do, it was a whirlwind of a week. If you care about policy, (place me in that camp, too) it was a most unsettling turn of events day after day.
Wisconsin has long been touted for our clean air and water along with a driving desire to make sure we do what is possible to pass those foundations to future generations. But that seemingly took a hard right turn with the news Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel concluded a court settlement with 3M Co, following repeated violations of requirements to capture airborne particles from their northern Wisconsin plant, without any fine. It was breathtaking–no pun intended–considering that the company did not comply with reporting the breakdown of equipment. Or that the Justice Department’s environmental unit had pushed for a fine up to $1 million.
The message this sends to the business community is that circumventing pollution controls does not lead to fines which were designed to prevent actions which harms our environment. For state residents who care about this place we call home it was a shocking reminder of how far adrift some state leaders are from the folks who talk about this issue at the dinner table.
When it came to ideas that were just hard to fathom as to why they ever surfaced none matches what State Representative May Felzkowski and State Senator Dave Craig concocted over new gun legislation. Hidden handguns could be carried without a license, and licensed concealed carry permit holders could pack heat in places where they are currently exempt, such as schools, unless signs show such an act is prohibited. The bill would remove the requirement that a person be licensed who wished to carry a concealed weapon.
I talk with a lot of people about politics and issues over the course of a year and I can honestly say there has not been one single conversation where someone has registered the need to have even more lax gun laws in the state. What I do hear is the growing recognition that over recent years the political tensions in our nation have increased along with more people snapping faster and making rash and at times deadly choices. Adding ways to allow guns to be more easily mixed into these personal dynamics seems like a very foolish undertaking.
Our state has a long and rich tradition of clean and open government. Over the recent past, however, there have been steps taken to undermine the process of governing; a process which is designed to prevent political over-reach and allow for diverse voices to be heard in the policy making process. One example of a backward step is the naming of the Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources by the governor. My concern on this matter falls on both parties who have allowed this practice to continue.
But this week we witnessed another lapse in judgment over process when Republican State Senator Steve Nass allowed for a paper ballot to be used when his committee approved a bill relating to high-capacity- wells. Locally I have made my objections known to my neighborhood association over their use of email votes as opposed to the open give-and-take the board should use when casting a ballot. In both cases the lack of open debate which clarifies a person’s position, and perhaps even an attempt to sway other committee members, is lost when voting as a group is removed.
Wisconsinites may have a wide array of views on the issues of the day but win or lose everyone can agree an outcome was fair if the process of government is not manipulated. Nass may not like the glare of the media and the concerns of the voters about the well issue. But when one enters politics those are just the results of being in the arena. To shut down a part of the process because it gets too intense is not acceptable.
Republicans continually announce they are so in touch with the average taxpayer, and looking out for the best interests of the state. They want to convince us they know how to handle the levers of power in Madison. But this week has demonstrated there are major concerns with their judgment and who they are really looking out for at the end of the day. Carrying water for corporate farms, the cash-rich NRA, and major industries may play well at GOP political fundraisers. But the average citizen looks at it all and wonders how did we get so far removed from the ideals our state once embraced.