Thursday, December 8th, 2016

DNR Secretary should be appointed by the governor

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Tomorrow (Tuesday) the legislature is expected to take up overriding the governor’s veto of the bill to have the DNR Secretary appointed by the DNR board, insulating the position from accountability. Governor Doyle was right to keep the position a political appointment, and the legislature was wrong to try to take that appointment power away.

I wrote on this subject back in September for the Waukesha Freeman:

The question, of course, is why now? Why the push to change the appointment process of the DNR secretary after 14 years of the position being chosen by the governor? Perhaps it is because environmentalists fear a very possible swing to the Republicans next year. In which case, who is playing politics now?

Governors should be held accountable for the types of appointments they make and the policies their appointments implement. Part of that responsibility is the balance of the environment and the rights of private individuals. These are legitimate issues for political debate next year when choosing the next governor.

Attempting to isolate that much governmental power from accountability is not a reform but a formula for abuse.

The Wisconsin State Journal agrees with me:

The Assembly should uphold the governor’s veto of Assembly Bill 138 so future governors – rather than an unelected board – continue to appoint DNR secretaries.

The public has more say if the governor picks the DNR chief because the governor answers to voters. That’s why Wisconsin lets the governor pick the heads of most state agencies.

Voters who don’t like DNR decisions can complain to the governor or vote him or her out of office, and then a new secretary can be appointed.

Hunters and environmentalists have lobbied hard to change this because they hope to have more clout with the DNR secretary if he or she is appointed by the Natural Resources Board.

The NRB is insulated from the public and often is filled with members who have strong ties to hunting and environmental groups. The current head of the board, for example, is retired from the Sierra Club. And the sporting and environmental groups heavily monitor and try hard to affect board actions.

Having a DNR secretary in the governor’s Cabinet makes it easier for the governor – elected by the people – to press for changes in DNR policy.

Critics claim gubernatorial appointment of the DNR secretary exposes the natural resources agency to political influence, which is true – and appropriate.

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