Sunday, November 19th, 2017

DNR Secretary should remain appointment by the governor



Publication:Waukesha Freeman (Conley); Date:Sep 17, 2009; Section:Opinion; Page Number:10A    

Governor should keep power to appoint DNR secretary

 Citizens need to keep powerful agency in check

 (James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.) 

    It is a curious moment in state politics when a Democratic-controlled state Legislature is considering the removal of some power from the Democratic governor, Jim Doyle. At first glance it would appear to be merely the effort of one branch of government attempting to take power away from another.

    The Legislature is considering a bill that would remove the governor’s power to appoint the secretary for the Department of Natural Resources, and instead have the secretary chosen by an independent board.

    The idea, we’re told, is to remove “politics” from the equation. Supposedly unhappy with Doyle’s defense of the environment and with his appointments, members of the Legislature and various environmental pressure groups are hoping that removing “politics” will mean greater environmental regulation.

    The department has two functions, actually. One is the promulgation and enforcement of environmental regulations, and the other is to administer the state’s regulations for hunting and fishing.

    Wisconsin sportsmen often refer to the DNR as “Damn Near Russia” because of the agency’s police power. Hunters have been frustrated in recent years by the DNR’s decisions regarding the deer hunt, especially concerning chronic wasting disease and deer populations in certain areas.

    Developers and businessmen often find themselves running afoul of the DNR’s rules for development. Readers may remember when the Menard’s chain decided to locate a distribution center out of state, in part they claimed because of frustration in dealing with the DNR. Closer to home, Hans Weissgerber Jr., of the Golden Mast Restaurant has had his own run-ins with the DNR.

    A few years ago, lakefront property owners were reminded of just how powerful the DNR was when the agency proposed regulating the length and shape of thousands of private docks on Wisconsin’s lakes.

    And now Waukesha, in its quest for fresh water supplies, may be at the mercy of the DNR’s regulations when it comes to getting water from Milwaukee. 

    These are just a few examples of how much power the DNR has over the lives of Wisconsinites and the Wisconsin economy. Insulating these kinds of decisions from “politics” is not a solution.

    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.

    In recent days, the Lakeland Times had had to fight all the way to the state Supreme Court to have an open records request honored and still the DNR has not responded. This is not the character of an agency that can be trusted with less accountability.

    Governor Doyle has indicated he is not in favor of the bill to give the appointment power to an independent board. Critics have accused him of being swayed by campaign contributions. Far be it for me to defend Governor Doyle’s character, but he has taken this position now that he is no longer seeking re-election.

    We might note, too, that many who suddenly see the corrupting power of money upon the Doyle administration never found the words to express such concern before.

    Doyle is right to preserve this appointment power for the office of the governor. He should make it clear that if it passes both the state Assembly and the state Senate he will use his veto. He owes it to his successors, regardless of the party. And the people of Wisconsin will benefit in keeping this powerful state agency in check.


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