Wisconsin Wildlife Federation
February 19, 2010
Representative Scott Gunderson
Madison, WI 53708
Thank you very much for your letter of yesterday to the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation. The Federation truly appreciates the opportunity to address the issues that you raised in your letter on this eve of one of the most historic votes ever taken on behalf of Wisconsin’s sportsmen and women.
In your letter you have raised two major reasons that are given by the opponents of the override of the Governor’s veto of AB 138, the bipartisan bill that restores the appointment authority of the DNR Secretary to the Natural Resources Board. The Federation’s Board of Directors has carefully considered these reasons over the last three months and strongly believes that they are not significant concerns to prevent strong support for a veto override. We have been consistently talking to the thousands of hunter, anglers and trappers that we represent and when the issues are explained in detail to them, sportsmen and women agree that the effort to override the Governor’s veto must continue as a high priority.
The policy issues that you raised in your letter:
1. The Senate Amendment to AB 138. The Senate amended AB 138 to include a Senate confirmation vote of any Secretary appointed by the Natural Resources Board. The Federation does truly consider this to be a minor amendment to the bill and one that does not significantly alter the great benefits of the bill restoring the appointment authority to the Natural Resources Board.
Ironically, the Senate amendment was added to the bill to address a concern raised by the bill’s opponents that the strictly Board appointment of the Secretary did not include any scrutiny of the appointment by elected officials. To have an up or down vote by the Senate gives a voice to all of the citizens on the merits of the Board nominee. This is a check and balance that bill opponents have called for in the past.
The argument is made that having Senate confirmation of the Board appointee interjects politics back into DNR operations. Let’s review that argument. I can personally shed some light on it because of my personal experience of having twice gone through Senate confirmation as a DNR Secretary appointee.
As the bill is drafted, the politics would be that the Secretary appointee, once every four years, would need to meet with Senators and urge them to vote to confirm him or her. That is a very modest interjection of politics into the operational aspects of running the DNR. It pales in comparison with the current daily political interference of the Governor’s Office in the operations of the DNR where, as we have seen, the head of the agency can and three years ago was fired for properly carrying out the responsibilities of the position because it was contrary to the direction of the Governor’s Office.
The Senate confirmation does not mean that the Senate makes the appointment. Based on historical practice, the Natural Resources Board, after a thorough search and careful interviews, will make a decision and name a new DNR Secretary. The Senate will hold a hearing and then have an up or down vote on the nominee. That is a routine function in state government. In the forty years that I have been associated in state government, I have seen hundreds if not more Senate confirmations of individuals. During that time I can recall less than ten appointees that were voted down by the Senate. When I was appointed by Governor Thompson, I was approved by the Senate by a 32-1 vote the first time and the second time, the Senate did not even bother to vote, thereby allowing me as the incumbent to continue in the position. The Senate confirmation process is a valid check and balance to assure that an individual outside the broad mainstream will be placed into the DNR Secretary position. It directly addresses the issue of “accountability” that the bill opponents raise to fight the bill. It also directly addresses the concern that you raise in your letter about having a Natural Resources Board appoint a Secretary that does not support hunting, fishing and trapping in Wisconsin.
When the Senate amendment and its ramifications are actually explained to sportsmen and women they either do not have concern about it or actually like it. The Federation will continue its efforts to explain this issue to hunters, anglers and trappers.
2. Need for Legislative Bills Addressing the Make-up of the Natural Resources
Board. Representatives LeMahieu, Vruwink and Danou have introduced bills that place into statute for the first time that three of the seven members of Natural Resources Board must hold hunting, fishing or trapping licenses and that one of the members of the Board must have an agricultural background. These are all good bills strongly supported by the Wildlife Federation and a great majority of Wisconsin sportsmen and women and should be passed by the Legislature.
Some of the opponents of AB 138 insist that these Board make-up bills must be passed before the veto override of AB 138 takes place. While adoption of these bills should occur, the veto override of AB 138 should take place regardless of whether these other bills have fully completed their adoption by the legislature and signing by the Governor, since these bills will have no affect on the selection of DNR Secretaries for many years in the future. Sportsmen and women are seriously and legitimately concerned that some of the bill opponents are using the passage of these bills to justify their opposition to a veto override of AB 138.
Please let me explain why these bills will not change anything for many years. Currently, the Natural Resources Board has four, possibly five members that meet the bills’ requirements that three of the seven Board members have had hunting, fishing or trapping licenses seven of the last ten years. Historically the Board and its predecessor the Conservation Commission have always had more than three such members from 1928 through 2010. In addition there currently is a member of the board with an extensive agricultural background and the Natural Resources Board has had a member meeting that requirement since early in the 1970s. While it may be good to enshrine these requirements in the statute, there is no current impact of adopting these bills into law immediately. Secondly, by their own provisions, the LeMahieu, Vruwink and Danou bill don’t take affect for four and six years respectively.
When this is explained to Wisconsin sportsmen and women they respond that while they want these bills passed, the passage or non-passage of these bills immediately should not be used as a justification to not vote for the override of the Governor’s veto of AB 138 on Tuesday.
3. Benefits of the Bill Override the Above Issues. Wisconsin sportsmen and
and women strongly support AB 138 for three main reasons and are convinced that those reasons strongly supercede the above concerns raised by the opponents of AB 138.
a. Inexperienced Leadership at DNR under a Governor-appointed Secretary system. Under the Governor appointed DNR Secretary system we have seen very inexperienced Secretaries appointed. The last two DNR Secretaries, Hassett and Frank, were appointed as DNR Secretaries without a single day of natural resource management experience. It takes years for such individuals to totally learn the scope and depth of the agency’s responsibilities. Sportsmen and women understand the ramifications of this lack of natural resource management experience of the agency’s leadership on the day-to-day management of the state’s conservation and environmental programs. This is not a reflection on these individuals but rather on the highly flawed system of Governor appointed DNR Secretaries. By contrast, the Board appointed system has had a high degree of selection of well-trained natural resource management professionals to run the agency.
b. High Turnover of Leadership at DNR. Natural Resource management programs by their very nature need long-term steady management without constant turnover of leadership. Under the Governor appointed DNR system, we have had three new DNR Secretaries in the last nine years, an average tenure of three years. It is highly likely that we will again have a new Secretary in less than a year. This high revolving door leadership of the Governor appointed system is in stark contrast to the fact that in the fifty years immediately prior to the change there were four Secretaries of the Department, an average tenure of twelve years. This steady management of the agency led the Wisconsin DNR to be rated as one of the top five to ten natural resource agencies in the country. Sportsmen and women know that they are best served when you have long-term steady management of DNR with experienced leadership.
c. Political Involvement in Day-to-Day Management of DNR. All you have to do is speak with members of the public that work with the agency on a frequent basis or with employees of the agency. They will tell you of the current very high degree of the Governor’s Office involvement in the day-to-day agency’s management of natural resources. Sportsmen and women for almost one hundred years have strongly opposed significant political intervention in the management of natural resources, believing that natural resource management should be professional and science-based and guided by sound conservation policies adopted and reviewed by the legislature. That has been lost by the current Governor appointed DNR Secretary system.
Sportsmen and women and other citizens are also appalled that a Governor appointed Secretary was terminated three years ago by the Governor because he faithfully carried out his duties to enforce state air regulations against a state-owned facility contrary to the wishes of the Governor’s staff. This would not have happened under a Board appointed Secretary system.
Scott, once again thank you for the opportunity to address the concerns that you raised in yesterday’s letter. There is a great deal that you, the Federation and Wisconsin sportsmen and women agree on and that surely includes that we have knowledgeable and experienced steady leadership making natural resources decisions based on sound public policy and science and without day-to-day political intervention.
Wisconsin sportsmen and women overwhelmingly support AB 138 and are strongly calling for its override. They are very savvy individuals and are very capable of sorting out the wheat from the chaff. They recognize that the arguments They know that the arguments raised by the bill’s opponents are not persuasive. They believe that the current version of AB 138 is a far, far more preferable way of selecting a DNR Secretary than our current Governor appointed system. They are strong and diligent in their request to you and your colleagues to vote for an override of the Governor’s veto of AB 138. It is and will remain a high priority for them.
Thank you for your hard work for conservation.
Wisconsin Wildlife Federation
Cc: Wisconsin Wildlife Federation Board of Directors