I was surprised by the lack of balance in Donald Freix’s recent letter strongly criticizing Representative Joel Kitchens’ participation in the state budget process. The letter’s message is that Mr. Kitchens’ remained silent and did not seek changes beneficial to his constituents. This implication is not correct.
I supported Mr. Kitchens’ opponent in the last election, and like the writer, am very disappointed by the final state budget, including the treatment of our public schools, university system, state parks, the DNR science staff, environmental education, shoreline zoning, groundwater protection and use of bonding rather than the gas tax to fund highway improvements. I would not have voted for it.
Mr. Kitchens’ did vote for the final budget. As a member of the party in control that crafted the document, this should surprise no one.
I was, however, very pleasantly surprised during the budget process by Mr. Kitchens’ openness to discussing the issues one-on-one, his regular public communications with constituents about budget issues and obvious concern about school vouchers and public school funding based on his long school board service.
If we are to have a functioning two party system, we need to accept and respect policy differences and recognize political reality. Improvements to the Governor’s budget had to come from within Mr. Kitchens’ party. Hard work was required to quietly build sufficient support within the party’s caucus to oppose the Governor on an issue. Public grandstanding would have failed.
As confirmed by both the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters and Gathering Waters, Wisconsin’s alliance for land trusts, Mr. Kitchens played a key role in restoring $33 million of funding for the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund after Governor Walker tried to freeze the Fund. Mr. Kitchens was part of a small group of legislators who championed this issue. The Stewardship Program has been crucially important to preserving the Door County’s beauty and biodiversity.
Representative Kitchens also led the effort to restore $675,000 in annual funding to support county land and water conservation efforts. County conservationists work with farmers to improve nutrient management, stabilize stream and lake shorelines, and keep manure out of our drinking water. This change was important to Door and Kewaunee Counties.
Mr. Kitchens also supported restoration of DNR capacity grants for organizations that do work in support of the DNR’s mission, a change then vetoed by the Governor. Finally, he supported increasing public school funding within his caucus.
The bottom line is that, while I agree with Mr. Freix, the final state budget remains a very poor budget. I also believe that it is important to acknowledge Mr. Kitchens’ successful efforts as a freshman legislator to improve it. Those who do not agree with the direction Wisconsin is heading need to engage positively with moderates like Representative Kitchens and persuade them to work to restore an open and respectful political process that values bi-partisan approaches to important issues. Demanding that they become Democrats won’t work.
Baileys Harbor, Wis.