What do former secretaries of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources say about how the position they once held should be filled in the future?
Former secretaries - some board appointees, some gubernatorial appointees, some who served under Republican governors, some who served under Democratic governors - all agree: The head of the DNR should be appointed by the independent, nonpartisan Natural Resources Board, not by the governor.
"It is our judgment that a board-appointed system results in greater scientific and professionally based management of the natural resources and provides enhanced citizen involvement in natural resource decision-making," write the men who served as DNR secretaries from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s, including:
• Anthony Earl, who served from 1975 to 1980, a board appointee who went on to be governor.
• C.D. "Buzz" Besadny, who served from 1980 to 1992, a board appointee.
• George E. Meyer, who served from 1993 to 2001, a board and gubernatorial appointee selected by a Republican.
• Darrell Bazzell, who served from 2001 to 2003, a gubernatorial appointee selected by a Republican.
• Scott Hassett, who served from 2003 to 2006, a gubernatorial appointee selected by a Democrat.
Why such unanimity?
Because it is the Wisconsin way.
For the better part of 70 years, Wisconsin's conservation agency was headed by an administrator appointed by a citizen board. That was changed in the 1995 budget bill, when allies of corporate interests got control of the executive and legislative branches of state government.
The Legislature is expected to begin voting today on AB 138, which would restore appointment authority to the Natural Resources Board.
As state Rep. Spencer Black, the Madison Democrat who wrote the Assembly bill, says: "The support of the past five DNR secretaries shows how important it is that decisions about our outdoors be based on science, not politics."
Black's right. It is time to restore and renew the DNR by taking politics out of the appointment process.