Top DNR job remains in governor's control: State Assembly comes up short in attempt to override Doyle's vetoMADISON -- Gov. Jim Doyle won a major victory on Tuesday when the Assembly failed to override his veto of a bill that would have weakened the governor's control over the Department of Natural Resources.
By: By Lee Bergquist/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Superior Telegram
MADISON -- Gov. Jim Doyle won a major victory on Tuesday when the Assembly failed to override his veto of a bill that would have weakened the governor's control over the Department of Natural Resources.
The Assembly fell short of a two-thirds majority when it voted 58-38and wasunable to muster the 64 votes to reject a veto of a bill to give the Natural Resources Board authority to appoint the department secretary.
The vote kept the governor's appointment power intact over the vast agency, which is one of the most controversial in state government because of its oversight on matters ranging from hunting and fishing to environmental regulation.
The last time the Legislature overrode a veto was in 1985, when Gov. Anthony Earl was in office.
Tuesday's vote was also a big win for the business sector, which sided with Doyle by arguing that the DNR is more accountable when it is answerable to an elected official.
In a statement, Doyle said: "Under the leadership of an appointed secretary, in the last seven years we have made the most significant environmental achievements in a generation. We have also taken the most effective steps to streamline regulations, while maintaining the highest environmental standards."
The vote was a huge loss for environmental groups and most of the state's conservation organizations, which had long pushed for a change in the law. They felt this year was their best chance.
Hunters, anglers, trappers and environmentalists have complained that the DNR has increasingly been influenced by the governor's office.
The roots of a board-governed DNR can be traced to the 1920s, when conservationist Aldo Leopold and others advanced a plan of citizen oversight of natural resource management. Leopold believed the implications of such decisions were too long-lasting to be subject to day-to-day political pressures.
On Tuesday, conservationists espousing the same thinking sported blaze-orange vests and milled around the Capitol, many holding placards with slogans such as "Override! Vote the Will of the People." In a packed committee room hours before the vote, Rep. Spencer Black (D-Madison) told override supporters that conservation issues transcended the short-term outlook of policy-makers.
"Nature's timetable is different from politicians' timetable," he said.
Later, the group filled the gallery and watched the override attempt fail.
Opponents, many of them Republicans, said the governor is an important check on the power of the DNR. They also objected to language from the Senate that would have given senators authority to ratify secretary appointments.
Rep. Scott Gunderson (R-Waterford) warned colleagues that DNR board members can be partisan, too.
Without specifically mentioning his name, Gunderson noted that the board last month named Jonathan Ela of Madison chairman of the Natural Resources Board. Ela once worked for the Sierra Club and has held non-staff posts with the group.
"Never, never in the history of this state has the board had an environmentalist as a chair," Gunderson said. "It is always been a conservationist -- and there is a big difference."
Former DNR secretary George Meyer said he was disappointed by the vote.
Meyer, executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, said lobbying by business groups in the last week influenced a number of lawmakers.
"In the last week, big money tipped the scale heavily," Meyer said.
The vote means the issue is dead for now -- and won't require a vote in the Senate, where chances for an override appeared better.
In the Assembly, lawmakers also agreed Tuesday on a voice vote to approve a bill that requires that by 2014 the Natural Resources Board have at least three members who are hunters, anglers or trappers. Also, in action under a separate voice vote, one member beginning in 2016 must come from agriculture and another member from the city of Milwaukee.
Whether the Senate or Doyle would go along with those changes to the board is unclear. In December, Doyle vetoed a bill that would have required the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents to represent all corners of the state, saying board members should advocate for the university system as a whole and not for parochial issues.
Nearly all Natural Resources Board members hunt or fish. The board also traditionally has at least one member from agriculture.
The seven members of the Natural Resources Board are appointed by the governor for six-year terms. State law also specifies that three members live in northern Wisconsin and three members live in southern Wisconsin.
Supporters of overriding the veto favored a system that was in place before 1995, when board members appointed the DNR secretary. That changed under the administration of former Gov. Tommy G. Thompson.
Supporters of a board-appointed secretary said that future managers of the DNR would be more insulated from politics.
Doyle's first secretary of the DNR, Scott Hassett, now a Democratic candidate for attorney general, distanced himself from Doyle on the issue when he said last summer that inevitably DNR secretaries feel pressure from the governor under the current system. He said the post should be appointed by the board.
Doyle said that his environmental record has been stronger because of his authority over the secretary. He has cited the passage of the Great Lakes Compact; reauthorization of a state land-purchasing program; and tougher emission standards for mercury and other air pollutants.
As attorney general, and earlier in his term as governor, Doyle supported an independent DNR. He changed his mind a year ago.
The Assembly voted on the bill two previous times in the session. In September the vote was 61-32, with four supporters not present.
In November, the vote was closer, 49-44, when language from senators was added that would require the Senate to confirm the board's appointment of a secretary.
Copyright (c) 2010, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.