Wednesday, November 11, 2009

DNR Secretary Appointment Struggle Is Too Much About Power, Not Policy

Word on the street is that Gov. Jim Doyle will veto the bill approved by both houses of the Legislature that would take the appointment of the Department of Natural Resources Secretary away from the Governor and return it to the DNR board.

Republican legislators removed the appointment from the board and gave it to Gov. Tommy Thompson some years ago so Thompson could directly control the agency, and especially its regulators who often bumped into Thompson's core business supporters.

As a first-term gubernatorial candidate, Doyle said he'd support reversing what Tommy and his legislative allies had done to the DNR.

Years of grassroots organizing - - bipartisan and non-partisan - - have united the hook-and-bullet-crowd and environmentalists in a successful legislative effort to put the appointing authority again into the board's hands.

Governors appoint the board members, with staggered terms, so the political control of the agency would be muted under the bill, but not ended.

Doyle has a decent record of environmental initiatives, with a vast expansion of the stewardship fund and its acquisition of lands for the public domain as his chief resource preservation legacy.

But environmentalism, per se, has never been one of his passions, and while that in itself is not a bad thing, it would be regrettable if he placed the preservation of gubernatorial prerogatives over public control of the state's natural resources.

I have worked for several elected chief executives and I understand that what they like, what they do and what motivates them is management and control, with hiring a key perk.

They are not legislators, and they are not advisers.

But that does not mean that holding on to power and handing it unchanged to the next office-holder is the end-all and be-all of political leadership.

Doyle's relationship with environmentalists and conservationists has sometimes been rocky - - look no further than his removal of his own DNR Secretary, Scott Hassett, after Hassett filed an enforcement action over water and air pollution caused by a UW coal-fired generating plant in downtown Madison.

That was a huge contradiction for the state and Hassett was right to begin to put an end to an eyesore and health hazard right in the heart of the Capitol city.

His sudden removal spoke volumes for the need to insulate the DNR secretary position and agency direction from some of the political stresses of the job.

I hope Doyle makes the right choice in this matter, and that there is not a further mess - - an override vote that will put many Democrats in opposition to their Governor.

And no doubt serving to amuse of some GOP politicos.

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