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Kramer walks out


Kramer walks out 

Tribal hypocrisy too much
Waukesha Freeman, April 11th, 2013,  Page A6 Opinion


The voters in the 97th Assembly District did not re-elect state Rep. Bill Kramer expecting him to be subtle. At times, Kramer’s time in Madison has been as subtle as a habanero chili pepper. On Tuesday, Kramer showed once again he can stir up controversy with little effort.

Tuesday night was the annual “State of the Tribes” address at the state Capitol. There were the usual drums and singing, and then Gordon Thayer, chairman of the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, spoke to the joint session of the Legislature.

He began his address by calling for “progressive collaboration,” which apparently means adopting the progressive left-wing agenda instead of the conservative agenda for Wisconsin voters have chosen since 2010.

The speech went downhill from there, with Thayer attacking the Legislature for passage of the mining bill and the state Department of Natural Resources for raising racial tension over the tribes’ plans to spear more fish this year.

The criticism of the mining bill was enough to make Kramer, a conservative Republican and a tribal member himself, walk out on the speech. Kramer told the media later that while Thayer talked of collaboration, the tribes had shown no interest in collaboration during the mining debate. They were simply opposed.

“When you’re continually talking about collaboration but tell us everything we did wrong … I don’t think my walking out was any more disrespectful to the speaker than the speaker was disrespectful to us,” Kramer said to The Associated Press.

It has not been a good year for relations between the tribes and the state so some tensions Tuesday night were inevitable.

The tribes opposed the mining legislation and a proposed mine in northern Wisconsin, claiming they were concerned about the environmental effects. However, the standards of the DNR and the federal Environmental Protection Agency have remained unchanged. Only the permitting process has been streamlined.

On the other side of the equation, perhaps the tribes could show more consideration of the environment themselves. Instead of Thayer telling the audience that the tribes stood behind the eponymous Bad River Tribe in its opposition to a new iron ore mine, they could be critical of the tribe that has actually been a polluter of the river they claim to be protecting.

The DNR is trying to grow a herd of elk in Wisconsin. There are only an estimated 180 of them. But despite opposition by the DNR, a tribal elder from the Lac Courte Oreilles (Thayer’s tribe) killed an elk for ceremonial purposes last September. So much for being good stewards of the land.

The tribal announcement that they are increasing the harvest with treaty-rights spear fishing means that non-tribal fishermen will be limited to one walleye by the DNR. Thayer criticized the DNR for spreading “propaganda” that could inflame tensions up north, but damaging tourism by overfishing does not make the tribes good environmentalists or good neighbors.

As state Rep. Dean Kaufert, a moderate Republican, told WLUK-TV, “Collaboration is a two-way street and at times it doesn’t appear to be that way always.”

Kaufert has said that if the tribes do not back down from their plans to increase spear fishing he would support canceling a $250,000 grant to the tribes for a cultural center in northern Wisconsin.

(Actually, the state should just cancel the grant anyway.) In his address to the Legislature, Thayer told the lawmakers, “We’re not your adversaries.” Unfortunately the tribes’ actions do not live up to the words.

There will be the usual handwringing over Kramer’s walkout Tuesday night. There will probably even be accusations of racism, despite Kramer’s own tribal status.

But the reality is that the tribes are not being good neighbors with other residents of northern Wisconsin. The tribes don’t even seem to care that they are trying to prevent job creation and are even going to hurt the tourism industry. Their actions have even shown them to be hypocritical when it comes to defending the environment.

Perhaps by walking out on Thayer’s speech Kramer was being rude. But when the hypocrisy is too thick to breathe, Kramer can be forgiven for getting a breath of fresh air.

As for Thayer, he should remember what the great philosopher Tony Soprano once said, “Those who want respect give respect.”

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