Wisconsinites have a well-deserved reputation as people who love the outdoors. We love our rivers, lakes, forests and state parks. With such strong support for protecting our natural resources many Wisconsin voters naively believe that the politicians in Madison also share their enthusiasm for protecting the environment. However if they have been paying attention to what has been happening in Madison the past eight years they should be aware that Wisconsin’s natural resources have been under assault by the most anti-environmental administration in our history.
Walker and the Republican-controlled legislature have greatly weakened the DNR’s ability and motivation to enforce environmental laws, eliminated protection for more than a million acres of wetlands, fought any attempts to control polluted runoff from huge dairy farms, eliminated funding for state park maintenance, reduced protections for groundwater and carried out a myriad of other anti-environmental actions.
With the defeat of Walker by Evers in the last gubernatorial election most environmentalists breathed a sigh of relief, knowing we will no longer be under the leadership of one of the most anti-environmental governors ever. Evers will be able to make some significant improvements almost immediately.
However we face the cold, hard reality that the Republicans still control the legislature. Vos, the Assembly speaker, and Fitzgerald, Senate leader, have made it very clear that they will fight any attempts by Evers to undo their “environmental reforms.” I have a very hard time with using the word “reform” to refer to legislation designed to eliminate environmental protections but that is the language they use.
What can Wisconsin voters do to ensure that state government cares as much about protecting Wisconsin’s environment as they do? The most obvious thing would be to throw the Republicans out of power in Madison by electing a Democratic majority in the legislature. But with the extreme gerrymandering of the voting districts the possibility of that happening is extremely remote.
The real power to force the legislature to do right by our environment lies with Republican voters. Republican legislators receive millions of dollars from industries that benefit from the elimination of environmental regulations and at the same time they realize that most voters have no idea how they vote on environmental issues, so they have little incentive to vote for environmental protection. If enough Republican voters become knowledgeable on how their elected representatives vote on legislation affecting the environment, and let those legislators know that if they don’t do right by the environment they will lose their votes, positive change will occur. If you have no idea how your legislators vote on the environment, go to the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters Website, they keep a tally of all votes affecting conservation. If you believe conservation is important, and the person you vote for has a less than 50 percent rating, you are voting against your own best interests and it is time to put some pressure on that legislator, or vote them out of office.
Green Bay, Wis.