State agencies listen to north woods concernsMADISON – The Capitol was teeming with activity Tuesday. Hunting enthusiasts in blaze orange and motorcycle rights supporters in leather walked the halls; schoolchildren toured the site. And in numerous conference rooms, Superior Days delegates aired Northwest Wisconsin concerns to state agency leaders.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
MADISON – The Capitol was teeming with activity Tuesday. Hunting enthusiasts in blaze orange and motorcycle rights supporters in leather walked the halls; schoolchildren toured the site. And in numerous conference rooms, Superior Days delegates aired Northwest Wisconsin concerns to state agency leaders.
Although much attention is focused on bringing issues to legislators during the annual event, agency meetings are just as crucial, said Elizabeth Skulan, director of human services for Bayfield County.
“Because they are face-to-face with secretaries,” she said. “And it gives people in Northwest Wisconsin a face to communicate to.”
The personal connections that are forged, Skulan said, are well worth the trip.
Bringing the concerns of the region to Madison can also give state agencies a new viewpoint. During a meeting with Public Service Commissioner Mark Meyer Tuesday, Dave Dahlberg with Dahlberg Light & Power and North Central Power asked the state consider capping the percent of renewable energy a company must use. Currently, only 4 percent of the energy the state uses comes from renewable sources. Under the proposed Clean Energy Jobs Act, that percentage has to increase to 25 percent by 2025. Under the current wording, all utilities would have to increase their use of renewable sources by 21 percentage points, the amount the state has to increase. But, Dahlberg explained, North Central Power is already getting 33 percent of its energy from renewables. To meet the act mandate, it would have to increase that amount to 54 percent, raising utility rates. The utility serves Rusk and Sawyer counties and currently has the second highest rates in the state. It makes more sense to cap the percentage at 25 percent, Dahlberg argued.
“I never thought about that particular nuance,” Meyers said. “I’ll do my part to talk to people at the commission.”
He also strongly recommended northwest Wisconsin legislators be brought in to champion the issue.
During a meeting with Ismael Ozanne, deputy secretary of the Department of Corrections, Superior Days delegates were pointed to the Bureau of Indian Affairs as a possible funding source for a proposed juvenile detention facility on the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa reservation in Bayfield.
And Deputy Secretary Dan Schooff of the Wisconsin Department of Administration gave a verbal pat on the back to the many agencies and organizations that have teamed up to bring the Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve to the brink of federal designation.
Even though they were bogged in end-of-the-session workloads, a number of Legislators – from Milwaukee and Racine to Wisconsin Rapids — met with the delegates Tuesday afternoon. They shared their thoughts on Superior Days.
“It’s the most effective grassroots lobbying organization in the state,” said Rep. Mary Hubler, D-Rice Lake.
The event reminds legislators of the special needs of rural northern areas of the state, reminding them of the many similarities they share.
“When the lights go out, we are all the same people,” said Jason Fields, D-Milwaukee.
The meeting was eye opening, youth delegates said. Superior High School sophomore Amanda Tesarek called the visit with the Legislators “amazing.”
“It’s a one of a kind experience,” said Mitchell Menigo, a senior from Hayward High School who is considering becoming a political science major.
“You realize they’re human,” said his classmate Ross Metcalf.
During lunch, they learned more about the history of the Superior Days efforts, which began in 1986. While the pioneers who trekked to Madison paved the way, it is the youth and new delegates who give the movement its energy and perspective.
“This is your event,” said Geof Wendorf, one of the Superior Days founders. “You’re what makes it strong and effective.”
While the lobbying effort changes over the years, the message remains the same, said Doug Finn, chairman of the Douglas County Board.
“We want to do our best for Northwest Wisconsin,” he said.
For Audra Austin of Poplar, being a youth delegate has given her future direction.
“I know I’ll always be involved in politics from now on,” said the Northwestern High School senior.
Those involved in the Superior Days effort say hitting the 25th anniversary is just the beginning.
“You are part of something that’s going to last forever,” said Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar. “It’s not about the issues; it’s about individuals. It’s not about results; it’s about engagement in making a difference.
“Many people are enraged,” he said. “It’s nice to see people engaged.”
Superior Days events continue today with legislative visits.