Wednesday, October 28, 2015

WI could use Public Intervenor office Gov. Thompson dismantled

It's important to highlight the grassroots struggles by Wisconsin citizens statewide who are trying to preserve for you and me the healthy drinking water, streams, lakes, wetlands and forests we need to survive and thrive.

As crazy as it sounds, these battles against powerful corporate interests are being made even tougher because the "chamber of commerce mentality" and personnel intentionally installed atop the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources since 2011 amount to a heavy thumb on the scales of justice that is forcing citizens to spend their own money to try and get the government to do its most basic job - - protect public rights guaranteed by the Wisconsin Constitution, case law, common law and common sense.

The state's retreat from its legal and moral obligations on behalf of the people's rights to a clean and healthy environment, however, did not begin with the election of Scott Walker.

While Walker, his ultra-partisan legislative lieutenants and their ideological allies on the State Supreme Court along with emboldened lobbies have made matters worse, the rollback of the public interest in Wisconsin as a matter of state policy began when then-Gov. Tommy Thompson era dismantled the Office of the Public Intervenor.

Tommy was killing something far more important than its instructive name, "public intervenor."

The office was a small but effective arm of the Attorney General's office created with bi-partisan support by then-Governor Warren Knowles (also a Republican), but was broken up and starved of funding and mission by Thompson precisely because the office had helped citizens keep the playing field level and green.

Not everyone knows this important Wisconsin political story, so take a few minutes and read a very complete 2004 law review submission by environmental attorney Jodi Habush Sinykin about the rise and fall of the Wisconsin Public Intervenor. Sounds pretty relevant today, no?

  1. Without the Public Intervenor Office's advocacy efforts, the right of Wisconsin citizens to an accountable government has been placed in jeopardy. Citizens have had to go it alone in their efforts to oppose special interest provisions hidden within state budget bills, and without the checks and balances provided by the watchdog Intervenor's Office, Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources ("DNR") has demonstrated significant shortcomings in the enforcement of state and federal environmental laws.

    Furthermore, the Public Intervenor's ability to provide top-notch scientific, technical, and legal expertise has been sorely missed in matters of environmental importance to Wisconsin citizens. 
Imagine how useful that office would be today as the right's use of state power across all three branches of state government to serve anti-environmental special interests has spread and deepened.

Even outsiders are taking note of the intensity of threats to the water in Wisconsin because they know, as did the public intervenor and the awareness that informed its creation that all these things - - the air, the land, the groundwater, the surface water, the wildlife and the people are connected and mutually dependent, regardless of borders, boundaries and watershed lines:

Wisconsin Groundwater Dispute Is a Warning Signal for the Eastern United States
And here's another facet of the bigger Wisconsin picture.

The same deliberate death blows that were inflicted on the Public Intervenor's non-partisan and publicly-spirited presence within state government are being aimed more broadly in Wisconsin not only on environmental matters, but also on home rule, local control, the independence of the Government Accountability Board and the independent thinking that supports academic freedom at the UW and in the Wisconsin Idea statewide.

All of these institutions were created to protect the public interest, but are being discarded and dismantled for political reasons by Thompson's rabidly rightwing political heirs to enhance the most narrow and negative interests.

Which is why you get recent stories and headlines like these emanating from the DNR - - the agency charged by the state constitution with guaranteeing the public access to and enjoyment of the state's waters:

DNR agrees to sell prime lake frontage to big Scott Walker donor


nonquixote said...

Thanks for the reminder about the Public Intervenor. Funding for citizen's challenging the state as you mention, had me pondering who is paying for AG Schimel's defense, of what appears to be entirely himself, from releasing the "training," videos that are rumored to be more harmful to the AG than to any other issue the AG has claimed he is protecting by fighting the release.

Just a question that popped into my mind, a bit OT, but citizens getting one set of rules and another politician getting another set of rules or privileges (assuming state funds and staff are paying for Schimel's legal escapade,) to the predictible and likely foregone conclusion that will come from the WI Supremes, pretty much seems universal WI practice now.

Thanks again, excellent piece.

Anonymous said...

No doubt about it the citizens of this state have been marginalized and denied access to government since Walker and company took over. Special interests over public interests and party before people have become the mantra of the Republican party in Wisconsin. We can only hope that the people have had enough of being kicked to the curb and will react during the 2016 elections!

my5cents said...

How often do the special interests ask for information and get it without any hesitation or excuses? You can bet they don't tell them they can't find it or don't have it, or whatever their latest excuse is. We seem to have a very inclusive government in Wisconsin. If you are on the recall list, you are excluded permanently from state government.

Anonymous said...

There are so many attacks on the environment by the DNR management it's hard to keep track. It didn't make the news, but a recent internal dnr memo reveals what used to be watershed management (wetlands, cafos) has 24 open position beyond the recent position eliminations, Only 5 are going to be filled, and 4 of those management- 19 left vacant. The point is there aren't dnr people to do anything even if they were allowed. Walker has all the bases covered. The dnr has been very effectively reorganized to just an arm of gov walkers policies.