More Reasons why Wisconsinites Should Be “Angry” about the Actions and In-actions of their Governor!

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While speaking at a Republican Party field office in Waukesha last week, Republican National Committee co-chair Sharon Day was searching for an answer as to why the governor’s race seemed so close this year in Wisconsin and the need for all republicans to get to the polls on November 4th and re-elect Scott Walker. “It’s not going to be an easy election”, Day told the audience, “it’s a close election. Like I said, much closer than I can even understand why.

“I don’t want to say anything about your Wisconsin voters but, some of them might not be as sharp as a knife.”

[as reported by Bill Glauber of the Journal Sentinel Oct. 20, 2014] Then again maybe it’s so close because Wisconsin voters are all too well informed of the impacts of their governor’s decisions over the last 4 years on Wisconsin’s environment and the inability of the Walker administration to follow a sustainable course to the future.

Wisconsin’s voters have always been well respected and admired for electing public officials who went beyond the call of duty and sometimes went outside the preferences of their own party to ensure Wisconsin’s many fine natural resources were always well protected. Wisconsin became a model in the 1960 and 1970s that other states emulated to protect their own natural and human resources. It never did mattered much which political party was in the majority in the state Legislature, nor the party affiliation of the governor. What mattered most was that Wisconsin’s rich natural resource and its healthy population was protected no matter what.

Even Gaylord Nelson ran as a Progressive Republican his first attempt at being a representative in the Wisconsin Legislature (he lost). Two years later, in 1948, he ran for the state Senate as a Democrat in 1948 and won. He then served ten years in the state Legislature before being elected Wisconsin Governor in 1958. He became a U.S. Senator in 1962 and championed several other environmental protection laws throughout his 18 years in the U.S. Senate, cooperating regularly with fellow democrats and republicans alike. That’s how it pretty much was in Wisconsin for a number of decades regardless of there being a democratic or republican governor. democratic

However, in 2010, Wisconsin voters elected Republican Scott Walker to be their governor. Moreover, Republican filled the majority of both the Wisconsin Assembly and the State Senate. Things changed. Beginning in 2010, it mattered a great deal whether a person in the government was a democrat or a republican. It mattered for the environment, too, as Governor Scott Walker had promised 250,000 new jobs should he be elected and he has not been able to keep that promise. What’s worse, neither he nor his party’s other officials in the State Assembly and the State Senate have shown any regard for protecting Wisconsin’s current and future environment from harm. Nor have they taken any meaningful action reins of government to really help the middle and lower income families and individuals in Wisconsin the last 4 years.

After being sworn into office on January 3, 2011, like a bolt from the blue, Scott Walker introduced a controversial budget repair plan which eliminated many collective bargaining rights for most public employees and made over $1 billion in cuts to the state’s biennial education budget and $500 million in cuts from the state’s biennial Medicaid budget. The budget cuts led to significant protests at the Wisconsin State Capitol and sparked a recall vote of Walker in June 2012, which he won with just 53% of the vote.

Wisconsin’s environment has been under attack by the republicans in the state Legislature and by Governor Scott Walker since they took the reins of Wisconsin’s government in January 2010. Wisconsin will never be the same. But things could get even worse with four more years of republican controlled government and Scott Walker as Wisconsin’s governor.

According to Editor emeritus of The Capital Times, “They’ve [Wisconsin’s republicans] been intent on tearing down the state’s traditions, dating all the way back to another Republican governor, Robert M. La Follette. They’ve weakened La Follette’s famed civil service rules. They’ve made drastic cuts to the Nelson-Knowles public land purchases and rolled back environmental rules to make it easier to build on wetlands or construct open pit mines in recreational areas. They’ve vigorously fought gay marriage equality until the U.S. Supreme Court finally told them to stop.

And all the while they’ve unabashedly worked to change the rules to give them an advantage at election time to stay in power to continue tearing down what their predecessors from both parties have built. They’ve relentlessly pushed voter ID under the guise of stopping what experts agree is nonexistent voter fraud. They’ve made it harder for people in urban areas, where many Democrats live, to vote absentee. They’ve gerrymandered legislative districts like they’ve never been gerrymandered before. No other Republican administration would have ever thought of being so brazen…”

“Contrast that with previous Republican administrations. Warren Knowles brought in the likes of respected governmental experts like James Morgan, Paul Hassett and Wayne McGown. Lee Dreyfus surrounded himself with stalwarts like Bill Kraus, Mike Musolf and the incomparable “Stone” Williams. Tommy Thompson reached into the Democratic caucus and made state Sen. Tim Cullen a key cabinet member and made class acts like Mark Bugher a key player. There was always one goal in mind: Make Wisconsin government work for all the people, not the special few. That, sadly, isn’t the case with those who call themselves Republicans in state government these days.”

“If they’re returned to office next week, the destruction of what was once Wisconsin will continue.”

In perhaps no other subject area has Wisconsin lost ground in the last four years than that of clean energy production and reducing Wisconsin’s global footprint. In April 2007, Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle signed Executive Order 191 establishing the Governor’s Task Force on Global Warming (GTF). The Task Force brought together members of the business, industry, government and environmental consulting communities to create a plan of action for the state of Wisconsin that addresses issues related to climate change. Doyle commissioned the Task Force to identify actionable public policies designed to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from Wisconsin while ensuring that the state remains competitive in the global economy.

The Task Force’s final report to the governor, entitled “Wisconsin’s Strategy for Reducing Global Warming,” was released in July 2008. The report recommended the state reduce its GHG emissions “to 2005 levels by 2014”, “22% below 2005 levels by 2022”, and “75% below 2005 levels by 2050”. The GHG emission mitigation options recommended were similar to those recommended by other states.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel‘s Lee Bergquist and Thomas Content, “only a few years ago, fighting global warming was a front burner topic among state policy makers. But the issue has been largely ignored in Wisconsin since 2010 with the collapse of legislation that would have required a big shift to renewable power.”

After an intense focus on climate change under Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, Republican Gov. Scott Walker and the GOP-controlled Legislature devoted little attention to the issue. Shortly after taking office in 2011, Walker canceled plans to burn renewable biomass at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The school’s power plant had come under fire for high construction costs and other problems.

In moves directed by the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC, 2 of its 3 commission are appointees of Governor Scott Walker), the state’s Focus on Energy program suspended incentives for solar panel projects twice in the past three years. More recently, Wisconsin utility companies, including Madison Gas and Electric Company (MGE), have submitted proposals to the PSC which would allow them to cut back further on incentives for customers to install solar panels. MGE recently submitted plans to increase monthly baseline charges and reduce per kilowatt rates, making residential and commercial investments in solar energy less economically advantageous in the future. For example, under MGE’s proposal this fall, the fixed charge for connecting to the power grid would increase from about $10 to $19 a month, while the energy usage rates would drop from 14.4 cents to 13.3 cents per kilowatt hour. Much greater increases in the fixed charges were announced for years beginning in 2016.

According to Michael Vickerman, the program and policy director for RENEW Wisconsin, a statewide group that advocates for renewable energy, the proposed rates would result in cost increases on an unprecedented scale, putting Madison’s electricity rates among the highest in the region. “What they’re proposing is practically double what is the norm in the upper Midwest,” he told Madison’s weekly newspaper, ISTHMUS.

“If MGE’s rate changes go through, the results could have ramifications across the entire nation. This sets a very bad precedent,” said Michael Noble, the executive director of Fresh Energy, a nationwide renewable energy coalition.

Vickerman said the proposed changes would have an impact on solar installation in Wisconsin, “which is already falling behind the rest of the nation”. Feelings of insecurity from the current rate debate may have had a hand in that drop, he argued. “It is the lowering of the [energy] rate that is the most unsettling for the solar industry,” he said. Property owners might be less inclined to invest in solar, since such investments usually take several years to be paid back.

The proposed plans have met with widespread public opposition at PSC’s public hearings. Yet the Walker administration has been strangely silent on this issue. The PSC is expected to announce its decision on MG&E’s proposed changes to its rate structure in December.

The transportation is the second most major source of U.S. greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, second to only electricity generating coal and natural gas powered electricity generating plants. Most of the greenhouse gas are emitted by flying and driving motor vehicles.

Since January 2011, Governor Walker has spent nearly $1 million in campaign funds on air travel, according Jessie Opoien, writing for The Capital Times. The majority of his flights out of state are taken on private, chartered jet – by far the worse way to travel as far as the environment is concerned because per passenger emissions are at their highest compared to other travel modes.

Walker has also done nothing to reduce the vehicle miles traveled on Wisconsin roads and bridges, which is the other part of transportation’s large annual slug of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases added to the atmosphere. The carbon dioxide that remains in the atmosphere (other quantities of it are absorbed into the oceans, causing the oceans to become 30% more acidic than during the early 20th century) may remain in the atmosphere for hundreds of years.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation reports that the annual number of vehicle miles traveled on Wisconsin roads has now “leveled off” at 59.5 billion miles. That is roughly double the vehicle miles traveled on Wisconsin roads in 1975 and even the 1975 levels of 30 billion miles traveled per year is unsustainable if we are going to do anything timely on the release of greenhouse gases from transportation in Wisconsin. For every gallon of gasoline burn in an internal combustion chamber, 20 pound of carbon dioxide is emitted to the atmosphere.

Women’s rights, taking health care decision out of women’s hands, and countering overpopulation have also been under attack by the Walker administration. One of the first things Governor Walker did was repeal the Equal Pay Protection Act in Wisconsin which will set women financially in reverse compared to men.

State republicans and Governor Scott Walker have gutted Wisconsin family planning and women’s reproductive health care centers in Wisconsin. This September, the Fond du Lac Planned Parenthood clinic shut its doors, marking the fifth Planned Parenthood closure in Wisconsin to directly result from Walker’s decision to eliminate family planning dollars in the state budget. This action is short-sited.

In a report by Kate Golden, writing in the Wisconsin State Journal Monday, Rep. Chris Taylor of Madison, a former public policy director of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, is reported to have said she is suspicious because Gov. Scott Walker ‘s administration and the Republican-controlled Legislature have been “hostile to birth control”.

The problem of unwanted pregnancies in Wisconsin and elsewhere has profoundly negative social, economic and environmental consequences for Wisconsin and the sustainability of our entire planet, which makes it imperative that unwanted pregnancies are prevented. That is a primary mission of Planned Parenthood and will mean a lot in terms of unnecessary greenhouse gases and the cost of social programs. It is already a tragedy that program funds have been cut and clinics had to close.

The reasons for Wisconsinites’ anger with Governor Walker over the last 4 years are nearly endless. Environmental writer Bill Berry’s observation on Walker’s environmental record following Berry’s four decades of covering the environment in Wisconsin should suffice: “Scoot Walker has by far the worst environmental record of all Wisconsin governors of that time”. [from Berry’s opinion plece in the October 8-14, 2014 edition of The Capital Times.]

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About Mike Neuman

Environmentalist; Father; Senior Citizen; Husband, School Crossing Guard; Green Bay Packer Fan; Wisconsin Badger Fan; Animal Lover; Humanitarian

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