Wednesday, May 30, 2012

There's Scott Walker, Smooth Debater; Then There's This Other Guy...

People who watched the 2010 gubernatorial debates and last week's recall election face-off with Tom Barrett saw the even-toned, unflappable Scott Walker.

But thanks to the Sunday New York Times magazine feature on Wisconsin, and Walker, you get to see his authoritarian side, as told by Bad River Band chairman Mike Wiggins, Jr.

The context was Walker's support for an iron mine that Wiggins felt would damage his reservation's drinking water and food supplies, tied also to the Ojibwe people's rice-harvesting culture:

To Wiggins, a large open-pit mine in the Penokee Hills was a life-or-death matter for his tribe. The headwaters that feed the river would be in the footprint of the mine, and the Bad River reservation lies downstream. Wiggins was also worried about the tribe’s sensitive wild-rice beds, which lie on the coast of Lake Superior. Cyrus Hester, who works for the tribe’s Natural Resources Department, raised the possibility that sulfuric acid might contaminate the groundwater and harm fish populations in the area’s rivers and streams. 

“There’s a very good reason this area has never been mined,” George Meyer, the director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and former head of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, told me. “A lot of mining companies looked at it and walked away.” For Meyer, one of the biggest problems with the site is that the ore sits at an angle, which when mined generates a much larger amount of “overburden” that needs to be discarded. 

When I spoke with him in March, Wiggins detailed several meetings he had with Walker, in which he tried to convey how dire the mine would be for his reservation and the surrounding environment. Their last meeting, in September, turned particularly acrimonious. Beforehand, Wiggins held a news conference inside the Capitol outlining his opposition to the mining legislation. The Assembly bill would impose a 360-day deadline for the permitting process, where before there had been none, and it would eliminate hearings in which citizens or organizations can question mining or government officials under oath about the safety of the mine. Many of the key provisions in the Assembly bill were drafted by lawyers working for GTac. 

“Walker saw the news conference as disingenuous,” Wiggins said. “When we got to the meeting, he was fixated on his anger with me.” After some heated back and forth, Walker told Wiggins he didn’t see the need for the meeting, since he had a copy of the tribe’s news release. Wiggins got angry. “You know, governor,” he recalled, “some of the things that are proposed in the mining initiative represent a catastrophic destruction for my reservation, health impacts to my people, and you think everything that you and I have to talk about is contained on one piece of paper right there?”


Anonymous said...

This is typical of Walker. He puts on the front of being willing to meet with people, but does he actually listen to them?



Clementine said...

Mike Wiggins for Wisconsin Governor.