Thursday, January 18, 2018

Walker's Politics of Indifference ignores base, basics

[Updated from 1/17/18] It's bad for Wisconsin. The turn-around can happen in November.

Let's start by saying that Katherine J. Cramer's 2016 brilliantly-constructed book The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the rise of Scott Walker remains a must-read.  As the publisher explains: 
Rural voters are distrustful that politicians will respect the distinct values of their communities and allocate a fair share of resources. ... Using Scott Walker and Wisconsin’s prominent and protracted debate about the appropriate role of government, Cramer illuminates the contours of rural consciousness, showing how place-based identities profoundly influence how people understand politics, regardless of whether urban politicians and their supporters really do shortchange or look down on those living in the country.
And while Walker has tapped into that dynamic - - and a heavily-gerrymandered Legislature didn't hurt - - I'd argue that of late he's taking his successes for granted and following a counter and potentially self-destructive path - - the Politics of Indifference - - when it comes to much of his base, and to basic governance, too.

Exhibit "A?" Yesterday's solid defeat in North Western Wisconsin of a key Walker GOP legislative ally in a special State Senate election for a seat which Republicans have held for the last sixteen years.

Here are several more substantive examples where Walker's stale careerism,  distraction by presidential ambition and mail-it-in lassitude towards a base he's taking for granted could spark his undoing in November, 2018.

*  The news that chronic wasting disease (CWD) - - see state map of effected counties - - in the wild deer herd has been discovered in Milwaukee County - - the state's most populous - - is one startling example of a basic, known problem that Scott Walker has failed to successfully address since being sworn in as Governor in January, 2011, as outdoors writer Patrick Durkin noted last year. 
The DNR failed to adequately test the 10-mile radius around a 2011 CWD case in Washburn County; and more recently it’s failed to scientifically assess the 10-mile radiuses around CWD discoveries on private deer farms in Marathon, Oneida, Oconto, Shawano and Waupaca counties...
The DNR even put its policy in writing seven years ago on page 22 of the state’s 2010-2025 CWD response plan: “DNR staff, landowners, and hunters will be asked to assist with additional sampling … to define the extent of the disease. … The number of samples collected will be sufficient to be 95 percent confident of detecting the highest level of disease prevalence.
When Gov. Scott Walker’s administration took office in January 2011, it ignored that policy in the Washburn County case, which brought this rebuke from James Kroll, the governor’s “deer czar” in 2012:
“The reaction to the … infected deer … should have included a faster response to determine the extent of distribution. Waiting until deer season in fall 2012 to sample for CWD is not adequate. A proper approach would have been use of a health check/surveillance team … deployed immediately on such a finding. … Once the geographic context is determined, the appropriate action should be focused, localized eradication.”
And Durkin wrote separately that testing for the disease has actually fallen during Walker's tenure: 
Unfortunately, CWD testing in Wisconsin has plummeted in recent years because of budget cuts and the end of in-person deer registration in 2015. From 2002 through 2006 the Department of Natural Resources averaged 25,858 CWD tests annually. 
Soon after, lawmakers like former Rep. Scott Gunderson, R-Waterford, slashed CWD funding, causing CWD tests to average 9,053 from 2007 through 2010, a nearly three-fold decline. Since 2010, the DNR has averaged a record low 5,545 CWD tests annually, even while documenting record CWD cases, including 447 in 2016.
What constituency, exactly, does less CWD testing serve as the disease is expanding? 

*  Likewise, what constituencies - - rural well water users, outdoors' business owners, anglers, hunters, hikers - - are served by the skyrocketing numbers of polluted waterways in the state, as well as the expanding numbers of big farms and dairy operations whose fertilizers and manure runoff downstream or leach into the water table?

*  Same questions as Walker transfers hundreds of millions of dollars in state transportation funding, plus billions in state tax breaks to the Foxconn project in the Southeastern corner of the state while roads statewide have deteriorated to the second worst in the country. 

The story that some paved rural roads in Wisconsin are returning to gravel, and who's responsible for it, got a lot of attention: 
Local leaders ...say Wisconsin state government has put them in a bind when it comes to paying for roads. State funding for local governments in the form of municipal aid has been cut over the last decade, while local transportation funding has remained roughly flat.
The state has also limited how much towns can raise from local property taxpayers, and those limits grew stricter under Republican Gov. Scott Walker.
Walker has proposed increasing local transportation aid by 8.5 percent in the next budget. While that would be the largest increase in the past decade, the Wisconsin Towns Association said it would translate to roughly $10,000 for the average town, enough for road maintenance but not much else. That means even if the funding is approved by the state Legislature, it will be hard for towns to undo trends that are years in the making.
*   Speaking of trends, Wisconsin families looking to use some of our most popular state parks are looking at yet another round of admission and user fees set in motion by Walker's 2015 budget which withdrew all state parks' operating funding. 

And the Walker administration is about to approve the transfer of acreage in one of those popular destinations - - Kohler Andrae State Park south of Sheboygan on the Lake Michigan shoreline - - to help enable the construction of a private golf course planned by one of Walker's big campaign donors.

How is it special interests like donors, or Foxconn keep getting more and more resources from the state while everyday campers, or well water users or motorists get the shaft?

* A final, Walker-initiated disparity: While he brags about school funding he's added in his latest budget, remember:

The new money does not make classroom funding whole after his huge school financing cuts he laid down in his first budget.

Secondly, because he was in a tiff with Assembly Republicans over embarrassing budget delays, Walker actually vetoed an Assembly-crafted plan to send extra funding to lower-enrollment, fiscally-strapped, predominantly rural schools.

Like his sudden rush as election day approaches to fix the nightmarish disintegration on his watch at the violence-wracked Lincoln Hills youth prison, Walker is looking to craft and have passed a substitute measure to get the rural schools some of the funding they need.

But he was willing to use schools in rural counties which make up an important part of his electoral base as pawns in his intra-party spat with Vos and Assembly Republicans while posing to the state as the fiscally-prudent budget executive.

Time will tell if Walker's got enough Teflon and camouflage and ad spinning dollars to fool the people one more time.

Progressives and grassroots activists and Democratic opponents should be able to defeat Walker's Politics of Indifference with passionate organizing, clear-mindedness about the role of government and an agenda of equity, honesty and empathy.

And because potholes, polluted water, rampant wildlife disease, subsidies for multi-billion dollar foreign businesses, short-changed schools and parks with higher admission fees while donors get all the parkland they want isn't the Wisconsin we want.


Rich Eggleston said...

in answer to the question of who benefits from Walker's indifference to chronic wasting disease, my friends in the hunting and angling community, including many former DNR officials, say the answer is simple: the owners and operators of deer farms. I was amazed when I was told how many there are in Wisconsin.

Anonymous said...

Yes. The goal is to privatize hunting and fishing by making people afraid to hunt anywhere except on private land for which they must pay a fee. Exhibit 1: Scott Gunderson, appointed by Scott Walker to a top position in the DNR, once pushed for legislation that would have privatized thousands of miles of Wisconsin’s waterways, including portions of every trout stream in the state. The 2004 legislation, authored by Gunderson while he was representing the 83rd District (Waukesha) in the State Assembly, redefined “navigable waters” in a way that would have denied public access to between one third and one half of Wisconsin’s public waterways.

Exhibit 2: In December of 2015, a DNR emergency rule relaxed requirements for deer farmers seeking a fencing certificate. Prior to the rule, farmers had to enroll in the CWD herd status program to obtain a certificate, but that’s no longer the case.

Happy hunting y'all and kiss the out-of-state money good-bye.

Anonymous said...

And let's not forget the latest attack on public access to water, disguised as a way to provide access to fishing for the disabled.

"If enacted, the bill would take away the DNR’s authority to redesignate as navigable any waters deepened by dams if the owner is enrolled in the federal restoration program like the one offered by the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The owners would also be exempted from local shoreland zoning laws aimed at preventing runoff from construction projects or storm water from degrading water quality.AB 599’s author, Rep. Romaine Quinn, said “natural changes in water flows and rainfall” are good reasons for redesignation, but the DNR’s authority to act based on higher water levels caused by dams was an “unfortunate oversight” in current law.

(Under the bill) once a determination of non-navigability is made for a stream and a dam is built that modifies the flow of that stream, the DNR cannot change the rules of the game and determine that the stream must now be opened to the public,” said Quinn, R-Rice Lake, at a recent hearing.

"After the vote, Rep. Jimmy Anderson, a Fitchburg Democrat, said the bill was poor public policy.

“We must protect navigable waters because of the downstream effects they have on wildlife, recreation, and the quality of our rivers and lakes,” Anderson said. “Changing state law for one case is a terrible practice no matter how narrowly focused.”