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Wisconsin Natural Resources Board Should Again Select DNR Secretary

October 28, 2018

Wisconsin had a rich and proud tradition of having the Department of Natural Resources Secretary appointed by the Natural Resources Board.  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.  But in 1995 Governor Tommy Thompson claimed that power as his own within the executive branch.   There had been high hopes that Governor Jim Doyle, once a critic of the change, would over-turn the decision during his time in office.  But Doyle also embraced the power to make the selection.

For many years this issue has percolated among those who seek to remedy an issue that can be seen as an over-reach by governors.  The concern about the political games over the selection process by governors, from both parties, is something that more of the state should consider as the election for our next governor nears.

I was heartened by the words of Democratic candidate Tony Evers in a recent debate for his desire that the secretary to again be an “independent appointment”.  Conservationists stateside surely applauded.

We should all cheer this desire by Evers.  On the face of the issue itself the board should have the responsibility to make the selection.  By making the change a sound governing process could be achieved.  But there is another reason we should give two-thumbs up for our next potential governor.  Relinquishing power and control is hard for any executive branch to do, which is one reason it is important to be judicious about granting powers in the first place.   So there is something most old-fashioned and welcoming in hearing Evers make the issue a campaign topic.

I have never viewed this issue as a partisan one from the time I started railing about it in the mid-90’s.  Instead, it is a process question that cuts to the core of how our state government functions.  We need to remove the temptation from a politically minded person, be they Democrat or Republican, to use this selection to sway policy for anything other than what is in the best interest of the natural resources we treasure.

Who among my readers does not feel, regardless of  which political party sat in the East Wing, that outside special interests did 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 has not placed politics ahead of sound resource policy at critical junctures?

Some will argue that the rationale for making the change while a Democrat is in office is less compelling.  I strongly disagree.  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.

6 Comments
  1. Andrea permalink
    December 17, 2018 2:36 AM

    Must be a battle we win. Relative worked in DNR in Meyer’s time and the balance of interests worked for the state.

  2. Adam permalink
    December 4, 2018 10:13 AM

    Absolutely! Am hoping this can be done in the budget bill.

  3. Gabriela permalink
    November 25, 2018 6:40 PM

    The state must have rules and procedures which match with the needs of our natural resources.

  4. October 29, 2018 12:20 PM

    We elect a governor to run the state. Tommy T. would tell us that people weren’t calling Trygve Solberg to bitch about the environment, they were calling him. And Trygve Solberg was NOT in the Madison phone book! (Or Milwaukee.) Governor should also have education.

  5. October 29, 2018 9:30 AM

    Thank you.

  6. Adam permalink
    October 29, 2018 8:32 AM

    It is a shame too many fail to know why the process of government matters more than the outcomes. Thanks for making the case as to why process matters.

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