Tag Archives: Governor Scott Walker

Wisconsin corrections chief resigns amid youth prison investigation

Wisconsin Department of Corrections Secretary Ed Wall has resigned amid an investigation into allegations of abuse at the state’s youth prison, the governor’s office said as news emerged that the FBI had taken over the inquiry there.

Gov. Scott Walker’s staff says Wall submitted his letter of resignation Feb. 5.

He will be replaced by Jon Litscher, who served as the corrections secretary more than a decade ago.

The announcement follows the revelation that a judge sent a letter four years ago warning the governor of possible criminal conduct at the Lincoln Hills School in Irma. Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick has said the governor never saw the note and that it had been referred to the Corrections Department.

The state Department of Justice opened an investigation last year into allegations ranging from sexual assault to misconduct in public office.

“The FBI has transitioned from assisting in the investigation to leading the investigation,” FBI spokesman Leonard Peace said Friday. He said he couldn’t comment on the reason for the switch, since it was an ongoing federal matter.

Litscher has most recently worked as a school superintended in Cambria. He ran the Corrections Department from 1999-2003.

Wall said in his letter of resignation that “the time has come to turn the page for the Department of Corrections and step aside to allow a new person with fresh perspectives to lead the agency forward.” The letter makes no mention of the Lincoln Hills probe.

Senator apologizes for retweeting derogatory reference to Walker

Democratic Sen. Dave Hansen has apologized to “anyone offended” by his retweet of a message that included a profane, derogatory reference to Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

Hansen said this week he was trying to share a tweet about new limits on political corruption investigations when he inadvertently posted the a Twitter message that’s derogatory to the governor and people with disabilities. 

Hansen says it’s not the message he wanted to retweet. 

The governor’s office had no immediate comment.

Obama offers Walker, other governors individualized reports on refugees

The White House is proposing to offer governors individualized reports about refugees in their states.

White House chief of staff Denis McDonough says in letters to all 50 governors that upon receiving a governor’s request, the State Department would send back a “tailored report” on refugees resettled in the last month and throughout the year so far.

A copy of the letter sent to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was obtained by The Associated Press. Walker is among the governors who has said the United States should not take in refugees from Syria.

McDonough says the State Department would update the information monthly on a password-protected website. He says it would break down refugees by nationality, gender and age range.

The new system comes as governors have sought to block Obama from placing Syrian refugees in their states following the Paris attacks linked to the Islamic State group.

Wisconsin Supreme Court ends probe of Scott Walker’s gubernatorial campaign

Presidential candidate Scott Walker won a major legal victory on July 16, when Wisconsin’s Supreme Court ended a secret investigation into whether the Republican’s gubernatorial campaign illegally coordinated with conservative groups during the 2012 recall election.

No one has been charged in the so-called John Doe probe, Wisconsin’s version of a grand jury investigation in which information is tightly controlled. But questions about the investigation have dogged Walker for months.

“Today’s ruling confirmed no laws were broken, a ruling that was previously stated by both a state and federal judge,” said Walker’s spokeswoman AshLee Strong. “It is time to move past this unwarranted investigation that has cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Prosecutors accused Walker and the groups of illegally coordinating their campaign efforts in violation of state law. They denied wrongdoing.

Barring an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, the ruling makes Walker’s campaign that much smoother as he courts voters in early primary states.

The case centers on political activity conducted by Wisconsin Club for Growth and other conservative organizations during the 2012 recall, which was spurred by Democrats’ anger over a Walker-authored law that effectively ended collective bargaining for most public workers.

The court’s conservative majority cited free speech in effectively tossing out the case, ruling state election law is overbroad and vague in defining what amounts to “political purposes.”

Justice Michael Gableman, part of the court’s conservative majority — which includes David Prosser, Annette Ziegler and Patience Roggensack — praised the conservative groups for challenging the investigation.

“It is fortunate, indeed, for every other citizen of this great State who is interested in the protection of fundamental liberties that the special prosecutor chose as his targets innocent citizens who had both the will and the means to fight the unlimited resources of an unjust prosecution,” Gableman wrote in the majority opinion.

Gableman wrote that prosecutors alleged the groups and the campaign coordinated on issue advocacy, communications that don’t expressly call for a candidate’s defeat or victory, and should have reported their spending and abided by fundraising limits.

Regulations governing coordination for political purposes must be limited to express advocacy, that is, advertisements and communications that clearly call on voters to defeat or elect a specific candidate, Gableman wrote. With that limitation in place, Wisconsin’s law doesn’t prohibit any of the coordination the prosecutors believe was illegal.

“To be clear, this conclusion ends the John Doe investigation because the … prosecutor’s legal theory is unsupported in either reason or law,” Gableman wrote. “Consequently, the investigation is closed.”

Gableman and the court’s other conservative justices received millions of dollars in donations from Wisconsin Club for Growth and at least two other groups named in the probe. In February, lead prosecutor Francis Schmitz asked unnamed justices to recuse themselves to avoid the appearance of impropriety, but the justices didn’t respond.

Heavily financed by the groups targeted in the John Doe case, Chief Justice Patience Roggensack outspent rival Ed Fallone nearly 5-1 in her successful 2013 bid to retain her seat on the court. Roggensack is one of Gov. Scott Walker’s most reliable allies on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Roggensack and the court’s other conservatives have maintained that no judge should ever be forced into recusal, but rather that it should be left to the individual justice’s discretion. That’s also the practice followed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Schmitz had no immediate comment, saying he needed time to read the ruling.

Justice Shirley Abrahamson, one of two liberals on the seven-member court, sharply disagreed in a dissent that accused the majority of a faulty interpretation of state law.

“The majority opinion delivers a significant blow to Wisconsin’s campaign finance law and to its paramount objectives of `stimulating vigorous campaigns on a fair and equal basis’ and providing for `a better informed electorate,'” Abrahamson wrote.

Republicans had called the investigation, launched by Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, a Democrat, a partisan witchhunt. Wisconsin Club for Growth and its director Eric O’Keefe filed a federal civil rights lawsuit last year seeking to halt the probe, arguing the investigation violates their free speech rights. U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa sided with the club but a federal appellate court later tossed out the lawsuit, saying the issue belonged in state courts.

The club and O’Keefe then turned to the state Supreme Court, which is controlled by a four-justice conservative majority.

Abrahamson was joined in a separate dissent by swing justice Patrick Crooks. The court’s other liberal justice, Ann Walsh Bradley, recused herself because her son works for a law firm involved in the case.

The high court’s partisan nature has long been exceptionally public, including a physical confrontation between Prosser and Bradley in 2011 and, just months ago, a bitter transition in leadership as Roggensack took over as chief justice from Abrahamson.

Howard Schweber, an associate professor of political science and legal studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said before the ruling that prosecutors could seek review by the U.S. Supreme Court, possibly arguing bias, if they lost.

Reaction to the development …

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce CEO Kurt R. Bauer: “WMC is very pleased that the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled today in favor of constitutionally protected free speech and association. It sends a clear message that the law will not tolerate government officials who abuse their vast powers and unlimited financial resources to harass and intimidate a select group of law abiding citizens and organizations.”

Matt Rothschild, the executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign: “It is not only regrettable; it is downright dangerous. …The decision is downright dangerous because it goes further than any previous court decision in legalizing coordination with so-called issue-advocacy groups, which will make a mockery of campaign contribution limits.”

> Wisconsin Attorney General Brad D. Schimel: “This closes a divisive chapter in Wisconsin history, and the assertive recognition of First Amendment rights by the Wisconsin Supreme Court protects free speech for all Wisconsinites. The Court’s decision leaves no doubt that the John Doe investigation is over.”

> Senate Judiciary Chairperson Van Wanggaard: “Today’s Supreme Court decision shutting down the renegade Government Accountability Board’s theory of campaign finance laws is a complete victory for free speech. But there is still work to do.”

Common Cause of Wisconsin’s Jay Heck: “As expected, a highly compromised Wisconsin Supreme Court majority has issued a highly flawed decision today ending the John Doe investigation of possible illegal coordination between Governor Scott Walker and his 2011-2012 recall campaign with outside special interest groups. The decision should be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

One Wisconsin Now executive director Scot Ross: “It’s clear that one party rule in the legislative, executive and judicial branches in Wisconsin means Scott Walker and his cronies are free to run amok, ignoring the rules whenever it gives them a partisan advantage and looting the state for their campaign benefactors.” 

Editor’s note: This story is developing.

Layoffs at Wisconsin DNR would trigger terminations of limited-term employees

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed cuts to Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources scientists could extend beyond what budget documents have portrayed.

A state law requires that before the DNR can lay off a single permanent staffer, it must let go any limited term employees or probationary employees with the same job classification.

The governor has proposed to cut 66 positions from the agency, 18.4 of them research scientists from the Bureau of Science Services.

Agency spokesman Bill Cosh confirmed that the DNR notified LTEs who were at risk, but he did not answer questions about how many people the proposed cuts could affect or how the cuts would affect research.

The science bureau relies heavily upon limited-term employees as a money-saving measure; they do not qualify for tenure, paid holidays, sick leave or vacations. They are considered temporary, but some have worked there for more than 10 years.

According to numbers DNR furnished the Legislative Fiscal Bureau in early May, the science bureau has 95 LTEs — 41 classified as senior research scientists and eight as advanced research scientists. Another 33 are technicians.

George Meyer, a former DNR secretary who now is executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, said the DNR asked the state Department of Administration for an exemption from the LTE termination rule — but was denied.

Cosh did not answer questions attempting to confirm the exemption and obtain related documents.

Layoffs are not certain even if the cuts go through, because people with cut positions may apply for other jobs within the agency, or “bump” less senior staffers and take their jobs.

Cosh said the DNR is working with the at-risk staff “to avoid layoffs.”

Helen Sarakinos of the River Alliance of Wisconsin said the DNR administration has so far failed to explain how the science will continue, for instance whether “at risk” scientists will be offered science positions in other divisions.

“Who is going to do the work? They’re not answering that, and they’re certainly not behaving as if they’re intending to protect the capacity to do that work,” she said.

This story is part of Water Watch Wisconsin, a project examining water quality and supply issues. The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (www.WisconsinWatch.org) collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

Walker’s science cuts may hinder efforts to halt walleye decline

Fond du Lac resident Mike Arrowood says he has begun to see fishers from up north migrating south to find walleye.

“The guys at Manitowish Waters, they come down to Lake Winnebago to fish. Why should they fish in northern Wisconsin?” said Arrowood, chairman of the nonprofit group Walleyes For Tomorrow. “You can’t catch any fish.”

Wisconsin’s walleye have been in decline for as long as scientists have been collecting solid data, about a quarter-century, and it is Gretchen Hansen’s job to unravel why.

“I can tell you I have not yet figured it out,” Hansen said in a December interview.

Now the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ ability to research and reverse that decline could be at risk. Gov. Scott Walker has proposed cutting 18.4 research science positions in the agency’s Bureau of Science Services, potentially including Hansen and several others who study the state’s most popular sport fish.

At the same time, the governor has proposed spending $2.6 million to continue stocking Wisconsin lakes with walleye over the next two years, part of the $10 million Wisconsin Walleye Initiative — a short-term boost to the population that researchers say is unlikely to solve the underlying problems with the species.

“Stocking is a Band-Aid,” said Jake Vander Zanden, a professor of limnology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who is part of a collaboration with the DNR, the U.S. Geological Survey and others to investigate the walleye decline. “You’re putting small fish into a system where there’s a problem with the fish.”

Ultimately, “the most cost-effective way” to solve the problem is to “have healthy, self-supporting systems,” Vander Zanden said.

Arrowood called the stocking plan “a waste of money” considering “how few survive.”

George Meyer, a former DNR secretary under Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson who now heads the nonprofit Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, said the cuts would cause “a very dramatic reduction in data for managing fish and wildlife in Wisconsin.” His organization, along with other hunting and fishing groups, sent a letter to legislators criticizing the plan.

Asked what effect the cuts might have on walleye research, DNR spokesman Bill Cosh said the department considers walleye and other fish and game research to be “priorities for the agency and our customers,” and said the department “will work with the positions that we have available and prioritize our work.”

Helen Sarakinos, policy and advocacy director of the nonprofit River Alliance of Wisconsin, said the DNR did not appear to be fighting the cuts. The river and watershed advocacy group stands to lose $138,400 in funding under the proposed budget.

“It makes no sense at all that we gut all the planning and research that goes into protecting and stewarding these resources,” she said. “We have to ask: Why are they doing this?”

State lawmakers on the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee may take up the DNR cuts on May 29. Three Republican members and one Democratic member of the JFC did not return inquiries.

Economic stakes are high. Sport fishing is worth about $2.75 billion in Wisconsin, according to the governor’s administration.

The governor has proposed to cut 66 positions from the DNR altogether. In addition, state law requires an agency to terminate all limited-term employees, or LTEs, before it can lay off a single permanent staffer.

A DNR organizational chart from late 2014 listed 12 LTE scientists in the fisheries and aquatic sciences section.

Walleye babies in trouble

In Green Bay, walleye are “a world class walleye fishery,” according to Titus Seilheimer, a fisheries specialist with the UW Sea Grant Institute. It supports big fish, and lots of them.

But the state’s inland lakes are another story.

Researchers have found that in many lakes, walleye are failing to regenerate their numbers — scientists call it a “recruitment failure.” Lakes that used to support natural reproduction no longer do.

The density of the youngest walleye, those under a year old, is down 6 percent a year overall in the northern lakes where most of the data are collected, according to the DNR’s Hansen.

“That is what is the most scary,” Vander Zanden said. “There’s something about the environment that is just not right for the babies to survive.”

There are also fewer walleye out there. Together, the “productive capacity” of Wisconsin’s lakes is down — like a garden that is less fertile than it used to be.

Clues emerge

There are numerous potential environmental causes, like predation, food, habitat or invasive species, Vander Zanden said.

So far, the researchers have have found some simple variables that predict walleye success, Hansen said.

That is an important step toward figuring out which lakes are likely to support walleye, which will help managers decide where to focus stocking or habitat restoration efforts.

Lake size is one top determinant; another is the overall temperature. Basically, walleye seem to do well in big lakes with cooler water. How squiggly the lake shoreline is seems to matter as well. They like darker water, but many lakes have cleared up.

The Wisconsin researchers have received recent recognition from fellow scientists for their efforts to tease out what is happening. A paper sent to the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences was deemed the “editor’s choice” in March, according to a DNR newsletter.

The editors cited “the impressive spatial and temporal scale” of the investigation and “the importance of (the) findings for management of walleye both in the U.S. and here in Canada.”

Some of the theories researchers are examining:

• All about that bass? Bass are up and walleye are down, and a popular theory among fishermen is that bass eat baby walleye. Arrowood, for one, believes it is a strong possibility.

But researchers from UW-Stevens Point pumped a bunch of bass bellies and found no walleye. And the inverse correlation could be explained in part by the fact that bass are mostly fished catch and release, while people fish walleye to eat them — or that both fish are responding to other environmental factors. Meanwhile, muskies are eating walleye in some lakes, but it is unknown how important that is.

• Climate change. There is no obvious correlation. Climate change has affected all the lakes, but walleye have declined only in some of them. Researchers nonetheless believe it may be affecting the fish, in part because walleye tend to do better in cooler water.

Vander Zanden calls the problem “very multidimensional” — meaning a dizzying array of factors could be at work, and they affect each other.

Warmer temperatures could affect water clarity, lake levels, the layers of temperature in the lake, just to name a few variables, all of which could affect walleye. And bass do better in a warmer world, so if they are directly competing with walleye, more bass would be bad news for walleye.

• Overharvesting. Since the heated arguments over tribal walleye spearing in the 1980s, walleye regulation has been overseen by the courts, which affirmed the tribes’ right to spear fish. A legal agreement intended to keep the population sustainable declares no more than 35 percent of the adults can be removed each year.

It is a cap designed to be exceeded only once every 40 years, similar to how insurance companies plan for 100-year storms. And it covers all northern Wisconsin lakes in areas ceded by the tribes, although lakes vary in how productive they are for walleye.

Vander Zanden says some research suggests the one-size-fits-all limit may be way too high for some lakes.

“It is leaving them open to overexploitation,” he said — that is, removing more adults from the population than it can regrow.

He likened it to pulling out more money from a bank account than its interest rate can maintain, and therefore decreasing the principal. That may be causing some of the decline.

“Understanding is the basis for addressing the problem,” Vander Zanden said.

Scientists are beginning to mobilize against Walker’s plan.

This story is part of Water Watch Wisconsin, a project examining water quality and supply issues. The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (www.WisconsinWatch.org) collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

Walker Watch: Walker’s office copied on letter about loan to donor

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s office was copied on a letter acknowledging that his flagship job creation agency would give a $500,000 loan to a campaign donor’s construction company, raising questions about his statements that he wasn’t aware of the deal.

Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said the Republican governor never received a copy of the letter and reiterated Tuesday that he wasn’t involved in or aware of the loan process for Building Committee Inc.

The Wisconsin State Journal reported Sunday that the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. gave BCI the unsecured, taxpayer-backed loan in 2011. The now-defunct company’s owner, William Minahan, gave Walker’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign $10,000, the maximum individual contribution allowed under state law.

BCI never repaid the loan and didn’t use the money to create any jobs, according to the State Journal report. Democrats called Monday for a federal investigation into whether the loan amounted to an improper political favor.

Walker, who serves as WEDC’s chairman and is preparing for potential 2016 presidential run, told The Associated Press on Monday that he wasn’t aware of any part of the BCI loan process. Patrick said the governor wasn’t aware Minahan had contributed to his campaign.

But Paul Jadin, then WEDC’s chief executive, sent a letter in September 2011 to Minahan announcing that WEDC would provide BCI with the loan and detailing the terms. Jadin began the letter by saying he was writing on Walker’s behalf. The letter ends with a line noting that Walker had been copied in.

“In closing Governor Walker and I are firmly committed to doing everything possible to expedite the processing and awarding of this incentive award,” Jadin wrote.

Patrick said in an email to The AP on Tuesday that a review of the governor’s files failed to produce the letter. She said the letter used “template language” that WEDC initially used for award letters and the governor wasn’t receiving copies of any such letters.

Walker has called for WEDC’s board to discuss the loan at its next meeting on July 20.

Walker created WEDC as a private-public partnership to replace the state Commerce Department shortly after he began his first term as governor in 2011. State audits have revealed mismanagement and a failure to track past-due loans. The agency also has seen extensive turnover in its leadership ranks. An audit just this month revealed the agency has failed to follow state contract law and hasn’t tracked job creation.

Slippery slope: Budget imperils natural resources | WiG cover story

Despite Wisconsin’s deep partisan divide, there’s one area of policy on which the state’s Republicans and Democrats emphatically agree: conservation.

Maintaining the state’s pristine, spectacular natural resources is that rare goal that rises above political wrangling. A bipartisan statewide poll released on March 18 by the Nature Conservancy, an environmental protection group, showed that Wisconsinites of both parties overwhelmingly support continuing state funding for land, water and wildlife conservation. Seventy-six percent of Republicans, 88 percent of independents and 97 percent of Democrats said the state should continue making such investments.

The findings create something of a dilemma for the state’s Republican leaders. They are faced with a budget presented by Gov. Scott Walker that’s anything but supportive of Wisconsin’s great outdoors.

Walker already has cut current funding for the state’s bipartisan Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund, a public land acquisition and access program that reserves woodland, wetlands and shorelines for the public. His proposed biennial budget goes even farther, calling for the stewardship program to be suspended for 13 years. 

The cut represents less than 0.5 percent of Wisconsin’s General Purpose Revenue expenditures — an amount smaller than the cost of a fishing license or state park sticker for every resident in the state.

“Nearly 9 in 10 Wisconsin voters believe that, even when the budget is tight, the state should continue to invest in protecting Wisconsin’s land, water and wildlife,” said Lori Weigel from Public Opinion Strategies, which conducted the survey on behalf of the conservancy. ”Most voters also said that one of the best things state government does is protect Wisconsin’s natural areas, outdoor recreation and history in state parks and other public lands.”

‘Taking the public out’

Given Walker’s policy inclinations, conservationists fear that suspending public land acquisition puts the state on a slippery slope that will lead to the sale of priceless wilderness and green spaces. The state’s park lovers interpret other items in the budget as a move toward privatization of the system, an approach that’s been tried — and has failed — in other states.

In his budget bill, Walker proposes cutting all general purpose tax funding of the park budgets, which currently amounts to $4.6 million. The governor apparently wants either to force the system to become self-supporting or to privatize its management, which would turn the parks and their concessions — gift shops, firewood sales, etc. — over to for-profit businesses, say critics of the cut.

“Self-sufficiency is a noble cause, but it cannot be accomplished in the present year,” wrote Bill Zager, president of the Friends of Wisconsin State Parks, in a letter to supporters. The proposed cut, he said, would prevent the parks from functioning at a level that users expect, even with the huge network of volunteers who have helped the parks survive prior budget cuts.

The parks once received 50 percent of their support from the state, but that amount has already declined to 21 percent, according to the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters.

“The parks are owned by the state’s taxpayers. You can’t just say that you don’t want to take care of them,” Zager said. Members of FWSP groups already pitch in to help with the costs. The groups have raised $540,000 and provided nearly 187,000 volunteer hours to help maintain the parks.

Zager said his group is in favor of accepting corporate donations, which are already helping to pay for park improvements. “But there is not a mechanism in place to make (corporate donations) work for day-to-day operating costs at this time,” he pointed out in his letter.

Like other groups, his is opposed to selling naming rights of state lands to corporate sponsors. 

To help make up for the loss of state funding, the proposed budget would increase fees for an annual state park pass from $25 to $28 and raise camping fees by $2 per night. Visitors would have to pay an additional fee of $9.70 just to make reservations. While that might not seem like much, it would deter poorer families from visiting the parks and reduce the amount of money that visitors spend at local businesses.

Handing the parks over to private management would raise fees further, since companies are structured to make profits.

“The park system is really there for the average Wisconsinite who doesn’t have the ability to buy lakefront property,” said Steve Hiniker, executive director of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin. “The parks provide an opportunity for the people to enjoy nature. Walker really is creating a state for the elite … where the rich have things and the rest of us don’t.”

Another controversial item in Walker’s budget calls for turning the Department of Natural Resources into an advisory board with no decision-making authority. That role would be shifted to Walker’s administration. 

Conservationists are not happy about the proposal. Walker’s record has stirred intense anger among environmentalists. He eased the mine permitting process after Gogebic Taconite made a $700,000 donation to Wisconsin Club for Growth, which benefits state Republicans, and he’s suing President Barack Obama’s administration over new regulations limiting carbon dioxide emissions from new and existing power plants.

“There’s a lot of outrage,” Hiniker said. “Walker is taking the public out of the management of state resources. Wisconsin’s land management was always built on the idea that we’d have public input and a public voice to make sure that politics didn’t get in the way of managing the parks in the best interest of the environment. Management of our resources used to be beyond politics. Now we have a management style that allows all kinds of political issues to trump the people’s interests.”

Anti-science purges

An additional item in Walker’s budget that is causing anger calls for the elimination of 66 positions from the DNR — one-quarter of them held by scientists whose research and knowledge are essential to properly managing the state’s wildlife and natural resources, from bobcat populations to old growth forests.

Critics question whether Walker’s attack on the DNR — and its scientists in particular — is payback for the agency’s work on climate change, which state Republicans deny is occurring, as well as for the limits DNR officials have set on hunting and their opposition to mining operations that use caustic chemicals near sensitive wetlands and sources of drinking water.

In 2013, Walker signed the Koch brothers “no climate change action” pledge, according to Jim Rowen’s blog The Political Environment. When Walker appointed real estate developer Cathy Stepp to head the DNR, he openly crowed that she was tapped because he wanted someone with “a chamber of commerce mentality,” Rowen wrote.

Critics contend that Walker doesn’t want science getting in the way of profits for his cronies. Whatever the motivation, it’s impossible to detangle science from environmental management.

“Any real natural resources protection is based on sound science,” Amber Meyer Smith, director of programs and government relations for Clean Wisconsin, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “The more science you remove from the process, the more politics you add.”

Meyer Smith told the Journal Sentinel that the science cuts to the DNR and Walker’s proposed $300 million budget slash to the University of Wisconsin system share a troubling characteristic — hostility toward intellectual work. 

Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters executive director Kerry Schumann holds out hope that Walker’s cuts to conservation and the park system can yet be avoided. She’s heard criticism of Walker’s plan from Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike. “People like (Assembly Speaker) Robin Voss are being very vocal in opposing this,” she said.

“Right now, even money that has already been approved and allocated for land purchases isn’t being spent,” Schumann said. “They’re being held up even though the money is there. First (Walker) cut funding to the stewardship program, then didn’t make the land purchases and now there’s a complete freeze. There’s this slippery slope that makes you wonder where it’s all headed.”

Hiniker is less optimistic that the governor can be persuaded to change his stance.

“For one month, 100,000 people were chanting outside the Capitol and it didn’t change a damn thing,” Hiniker said. “Walker has shown that he’s immune to protests.”

Parks’ economic role

A majority of those surveyed said that protecting Wisconsin’s natural resources is important to a healthy economy, and the numbers agree. The stewardship program protects many of the natural resources on which Wisconsin’s $13 billion tourism industry, $22 billion forestry industry and $4 billion hunting and fishing industry depend, according to WLCV. Recreation also is high on the list of amenities that attract businesses to the state.

Park visitors help support rural economies that have few other ways to generate revenue.

“When a family goes to a state park, they spend an average of $230 on the businesses around the park,” Schumann said. The revenue is dependable and steadily growing. Visits to state parks have risen 12 percent since 2002, even as funding for the parks has declined.

The state’s park system includes 46 state parks, 14 state trails, four recreational areas, eight state forests and two national scenic trails. In addition to the tourists who visit Wisconsin’s scenic wonders, the state is home to an enthusiastic population of hikers, campers, backpackers, snowmobilers, kayakers, boaters, rock climbers, hunters, anglers, cross-country skiers, birdwatchers, picnickers and others who enjoy outdoor recreation — or just the peace of communing with nature.

Wisconsin’s parks and green spaces are as essential to the state’s identity as beer and cheese. Indeed, the very name of Wisconsin’s land stewardship fund reflects the state’s deeply rooted bipartisan ties to conservation. Former Democratic Gov. Gaylord Nelson, the founder of Earth Day, and Republican Gov. Warren Knowles were its inspiration.

Wisconsin has produced several important conservationists. In addition to Nelson and Knowles, the list of Wisconsin conservationists includes the legendary John Muir, Aldo Leopold, Nina Leopold Bradley and Hilary “Sparky” Waukau, a member of the Menomonee Nation who helped save the northern part of Wisconsin from becoming a nuclear waste dump. Perhaps those historical figures helped to establish the outdoorsy culture that the Nature Conservancy’s survey found among state residents.

But the Walker budget rejects this tradition.

“When it comes to conservation, this budget is absolutely terrible,” Schumann said.

Reagan Foundation: Walker telling of Bible story is correct

An official at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library this week sought to clarify her account of how Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker came to handle a family Bible the late president used when taking the oath of office.

Library registrar Jennifer Torres said a “simple misunderstanding” left the wrong impression that Walker personally sought to hold the book. A spokeswoman for the Reagan Foundation says Walker’s retelling of the moment is correct.

Walker told the story of having his picture taken with the Bible at a 2013 Reagan Day dinner in Milwaukee. He described in his speech how he was surprised to see the Bible had been taken out of its exhibit case, so that he could pose with it for a photo.

In a series of emails with the liberal magazine The Progressive, Torres said that Walker had asked to see the Bible.

On March 16, Torres said that Walker’s advance team had indeed asked about Walker viewing the Bible, but that his surprise at being offered the chance to hold it was genuine.

“It was the Reagan Foundation’s request to actually pull the Bible from the case and allow Gov. Walker to hold the Bible,” Torres said. “It was not Gov. Walker nor his team’s idea to request that we remove it from the case or take a picture of the governor with it.”

In his 2013 speech, Walker also said he was told that former first lady Nancy Reagan wanted him to hold the book and pose for a photo.

Melissa Giller, a spokeswoman for the Reagan Foundation, said Walker likely got that idea because Nancy Reagan’s chief of staff had to give permission for the Bible to be removed.

“She knew Mrs. Reagan would also like the idea and we shared that with him,” Giller said in an email. “We aren’t sure how the other story got out (that it was his idea), and we feel badly about it because nothing about it was his idea.”

Torres, in an email she sent to Giller explaining what happened, called it a “simple misunderstanding.” Giller said that she, not anyone associated with Walker, sought out the additional information from Torres about what happened.

Kirsten Kukowski, a spokeswoman for Walker’s political group, Our American Revival, said in a statement late last week that, “Gov. Walker was honored to speak at the Reagan Library and to hold his mother’s Bible. He was and continues to be one of his heroes, a president for the ages that accomplished great things for our country.” She said on March 16 that Walker’s group had no additional comment.

Gwen Moore: Walker continues assault on working-class Wisconsin

In the ongoing assault on Wisconsin’s working class, Gov. Scott Walker signed another crippling anti-worker bill into law.

This so-called “right to work” legislation is nothing but a bald-faced attempt by our Republican governor and Legislature to protect special interests at the expense of working class families. I am reminded of Dr. Martin Luther King, who once said, “In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as ‘right to work.’ It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights.”

During his re-election campaign, Gov. Walker made numerous claims that he would refrain from pushing for such legislation in his new term. Instead of keeping that promise, Gov. Walker once again broke his word and asked the Republican-controlled Legislature to “fast-track” their “right to work” bill.

In addition to hurting his already damaged credibility, this unprecedented move made it possible for Republicans to limit the amount of time available to opposition groups to organize against the bill. Limiting transparency and public dialogue with this approach goes against the fundamentals of our democracy and further exposes the governor’s utter lack of respect for his constituents.

Unions have been a vital source of economic strength for Wisconsin and the nation. They have given workers a collective voice to fight against unfair business practices by companies that prioritize profit over employees. While I am greatly distressed over the actions taken today by the governor and state Legislature, it only strengthens my resolve to continue our fight for fair treatment of the working class. As the backbone of our nation, our working families deserve better.