Saturday, February 7, 2015

Walker attack on WI Idea's public policy-by-fact nothing new

The exposure of Scott Walker's clumsy attack on the UW's historic "Wisconsin Idea" public service mission was a self-inflicted wound.

It was made more attention-grabbing by his fact-and apology-free cover-up that earned him his tenth "Pants on Fire" PolitiFact rating from a statewide newspaper that twice endorsed him for Governor that showed to national media often barely scratching only the surface of Walker's record - - and to the audience before which he is manically auditioning for even higher office the incident displayed in full view his unsettling reflex for false speaking and manipulative behavior that is all-too-well known in Wisconsin where his extremist damage continues to mount.

This blog covered these events in detail, with multiple posts.

But keep your eye on the ball, the big picture, the back story: what unfolded in Wisconsin over the last 72 hours was more a window into Walker's methods and first full term than a simple strategic mistake by a politician famous for single-minded, top-down control.

The Wisconsin Idea's historic, bedrock pledge into which Walker ran head-on - - that the assets of the state are to be used to promote policy in the public interest driven by a search for the truth - - is fundamentally at odds with the corporate, Tea Party philosophy and allegiance he has publicly-bragged about.

Walker has consistently used his position to signal to far-right activists, voters and campaign donors that he whole-heartedly embraces the goals and needs of ultra-conservative king-makers like Grover Norquist and their key private-sector-first donors, like the influential and super-rich Koch brothers - - who have already returned the favor.

Look to the early evidence of what we will call The Walker 'Idea' that undermines The Wisconsin Idea, broadly writ, in his decimation of role of science at the formerly-nationally-recognized Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

His new proposed budget calls for a thirteen-year suspension of Wisconsin's twenty-five year-old and bi-partisan program run by the DNR to acquire important habitat, wetlands, trails, and forests for public recreation, flood control and other purposes in partnership with local groups and agencies.

This slam to this program is on top of a law Walker signed ordering the DNR to sell 10,000 acres, a round number picked out of the air to please developers and timber interests.

The budget calls for the deletion of sixty-six DNR science and research positions which provide public education and fact-informed analyses of development proposals by career employees with graduate degrees. Walker began his budgetary downgrade to DNR science and enforcement operations began in 2013.

Presumably, Walker thinks these scientists and educators are as lazy as the UW faculty he said don't work hard enough.

More about The Walker 'Idea' and gradation education in a minute.

The new Walker budget calls for ending the department's oversight by its long-standing Wisconsin-Idea-related  citizen body.

It is not coincidental that Walker's plan to turn the Wisconsin Natural Resource Board into a purely advisory, power-free body comes just after it approved a few weeks ago petitions from citizen seeking a DNR-researched and much-needed scientific study of frac sand mining in Wisconsin.

The petitions came after numerous complaints from citizens and local governments about sand mining damage to the landscape, disruptive, 24/7 sand shipping by rail and truck, and harmful releases of muddy sand or fine dust into the air or nearby rivers.

The Walker Idea would end the power of the oversight board to order such a study, and for good measure, his budget ends as well the regulatory power of two DNR-related citizen panels with specific authority to better protect Wisconsin rivers heavily challenged by development pressure and sand mining.

All these powers Walker would reserve to the Secretary of the DNR - - (thus, to himself) - - an ideologically-conservative former GOP State Senator and developer he appointed with other business association officials - - to bring a "chamber-of-commerce mentality" to DNR management.

The budget even cuts the DNR contribution that supports years of work by citizens to re-establish and restore the popular Ice Age Trail in Wisconsin through acquisitions of a few acres here, a few others there in once-scenic areas trashed by sprawl and other heedless 'improvements.'

That's The Walker 'Idea' in its purely punitive, gratuitous iteration.

Walker's first two budgets also cut the DNR's critical investigative and enforcement staff, leading to a noticeable drop in pollution control and remediation actions that fell substantially below those of previous administrations, regardless of party.

And in the most high-profile environmental fight against the public interest in Walker's first term, an iron mining bill pushed by Walker to benefit only one company - - the out-of-state coal mining firm GTac - - could permanently destroy a pristine watershed in the Penokee Hills near Ashland in Northwest Wisconsin.

GTac 'won' the right to dig what could be the continent's biggest open-pit iron ore mine across the Bad River watershed which attracts hikers, anglers, boaters and scientists studying the ecosystem, and which also supports the water-based, wild-rice growing Bad River Band of Lake Chippewa (Ojibwa).

GTac was allowed to help write the bill which gave it unprecedented power to close off, dynamite, dig and leave behind waste rock and fill for perhaps 35 years; after he signed the bill into law, it was discovered that $700,000 was routed to Walker's campaign through a third-party conservative advocacy organization.

The new iron mining law turned the existing, conservation-minded statute on its head by a) eliminating provisions that required a mining permit applicant to submit scientific documentation for public, sworn review prior to a final DNR permit approval decision, and b) mandating that an iron mining permit be automatically approved by the DNR even if the agency review was not completed in a fixed, arbitrarily-determined and relatively short period of time - - in most projected cases - - within one year, two months.

There are some local subdivision or shopping mall permit struggles that take that long.

At every turn, The Walker 'Idea' discounts or removes science and public participation from policy-making.

He is among the governors already suing to block the Obama administration's new clean air standards; newly-elected WI GOP Attorney General Brad Schimel with whom Walker is allied ran on a pledge to join such litigation.

Through his Public Service Commission appointees, Walker just levied harsh new fees on solar installations. Separately, his PSC slowed wind turbine installation. His budgets starve transit. His new budget includes fresh cuts to recycling,

Find a spot where science, seen innovation and conservation present opportunity, or best practice in the public interest, and Walker is there to obstruct, minimize or end it.

The Walker 'Idea' is behind a broad, multi-layered attack on fact-driven public service that is the mission of both state agencies and Wisconsin's world-class, statewide University teaching research system - - so it is not surprising that as we learned about his cuts aimed at senior DNR science staffers we also learned there is also in his budget a plan to end UW faculty tenure.

Talk about a sure-fire way to turn the state's already-troubling brain drain into a tsunami, and, not coincidentally to drive away middle-class University-community residents who live in cities with Democratic voting majorities.

The Walker 'Idea' is the opposite of The Wisconsin Idea, whether implemented by the University and its campuses statewide, or by DNR employees trying to keep rivers, lakes and streams more open for recreational fishing and swimming than as collection ponds for factory phosphorus discharges, acidic mining waste overflows and industrial-sized cattle and hog farm runoff.

And, again, you have to realize that what Walker proposes to do to the state's scientific and environmental landscape didn't begin with his tampering with the UW's Wisconsin Idea mission - - from which he has somewhat retreated.

In his first days in office, Walker pushed through a special bill that terminated the review of an application to the DNR by a Walker campaign donor for a permit to build a business development on a Green Bay wetland before the permit review was finished.

That was just the start.

Legislators led by his GOP allies then gave Walker the power to green-light administrative operating and policy implementing agency rules - - thus further cutting the flow of information about the rules and blocking the general public from review procedures while special interests got quick service.

Then, with his go-ahead, the Legislature delayed by twenty-five years the full implementation of consensus regulations approved after years of hard, bi-partisan work to keep toxic, choking phosphorous contamination out the state's many impaired waterways.

Then his managers scrubbed from the DNR's now-skimpy, one-paragraph and essentially dormant climate change webpage nearly every previous reference and URL link to climate change information  - - which sent the continuing message to citizens and communities that state power and operations wielded by an aggrandized Walker would roll over basic democratic values like information sharing, citizen input and local governments' control when big business wanted or bought its way into state service.

Yes, Walker got singed by tampering with the Wisconsin Idea, but what he was after through the deletion of a few key words has already begun, and is continuing, on much a broad policy-and-law-making scale across Wisconsin.


Anonymous said...

Here is one little initiative that shows the direction the Governor is going:

Establish an agricultural producer led water-quality initiative using $250,000 SEG annually in existing soil and water management grants for the implementation of nonpoint source pollution abatement practices.

I'm not sure what this means but it sounds like they are taking $500 out of an existing DATCP program and giving it to producer groups, most likely Dairy Business and Potato Growers to do whatever they want.

jg said...

Nicely done piece. It's overwhelming to read what he has done to Wisconsin through his tremendous abuses of power, and sadly he has (at least) four more years to build his resume for a 2020 or 2024 run if 2016 doesn't fall into place. The outlook does look bleak. But maybe this kind of coverage of Walker will eventually chip away at his inexplicable appeal to so many of our fellow citizens. Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

Since our stupid governor is so unfamiliar with the truth, might I suggest he use a variant of one of the misquoted lines of the Vietnam War? He'd be a natural in his presidential campaign saying, "I had to destroy Wisconsin in order to save Wisconsin"

Anonymous said...

Sad and dismaying post, but one of your most powerful. Back in 2000 I never understood the appeal of G.W. Bush. What people claimed was charisma I took as mere frat boy chest thumping and yet he became President and one of the most harmful in American history. Walker is the new Bush. He somehow has the same cult like following as the Shrub had. To dismiss his potential nomination would be a huge mistake. He may someday shred the American Idea as he is the Wisconsin Idea.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps someone from Scott Walker's inner circle (past or present) will do the patriotic thing and expose Walker as the fraudster he is. Given the damage Walker has done so far and has the potential to do, such a person would be a true patriot. Our state and nation would be forever grateful.