2011 WISCONSIN RECALL: On mining and other issues, it's the gift that keeps on giving | WisCommunity

2011 WISCONSIN RECALL: On mining and other issues, it's the gift that keeps on giving

[img_assist|nid=153609|title=Dale Schultz|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=120|height=160]The word in the state Capitol is that the awful, anti-environmental, Republican mining deregulation bill is probably dead for the current legislative session. Assembly Republicans had passed the measure, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald dissolved a committee in his house looking at the bill in an apparent attempt to ram it through more quickly.

But then came one of those benefits of last year's state Senate recall elections that Republicans still pretend were a failure.

Thanks to the recalls, in which Democrats captured two of three GOP seats in play, Republicans now control the Senate by only one member, 17-16. However, one Republican, State Sen. Dale Schultz of Richland Center, is more moderate than many of his party colleagues and has served as a swing vote on a number of issues.

With Democrats locking arms behind him, that means Schultz can be very powerful. While he has voted with his party leadership any number of times, Schutlz has also taken thoughtful, more independent approaches to some major public policy issues, including legislative reapportionment and now the mining bill.

Schultz made it known in his caucus that he had problems with the bill. Critics including environmental groups and native tribes in northwestern Wisconsin say the measure would greatly accelerate and automate the state's review of mining applications, while removing public contested hearings, handcuffing the Department of Natural Resources, and otherwise greasing the skids for mining interests.

Which provisions were punctuated by the GOP leadership's pointed effort to avoid public hearings in the region of the proposed Gogebic Taconite LLC mine -- a miles-long, thousand-foot-deep monstrosity that would be the first project to benefit from the "streamlined" mining approval process.

Schultz and Sen. Bob Jauch (D-Poplar) introduced a compromise mining bill which was not as strong in regulatory protections as current law but much stronger than the measure backed by Republican leadership and the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce lobbying group -- a measure apparently drafted in close concert with mining interests.

Schultz met with Senate committee leaders this week and said the result was a stalemate. While he held out hope a compromise could be reached, most observers think the mid-March end to the current session is too near to accomplish any heavy lifting. And so the GOP's main "job creation" (and environment killing) measure of the past two years could expire.

The new makeup of the state Senate is the main reason why Gov. Scott Walker is suddenly making kumbaya noises about finding accord on the mining bill and other issues. Insincere? Undoubtedly. But he clearly thinks he needs to look like a moderate, now, because Democrats and one moderate Republican in the state legislature are forcing the issue.

Schultz's efforts also put the lie to Majority Leader Fitzgerald's claim that Democrats are out to kill jobs and will "do anything" to stop the bill. The significant involvement in the effort to slow this bill by a key, veteran member of his own party means Fitzgerald and Republican campaign strategists are now caught in a lie. If it was only Democrats, why couldn't the supposedly all-powerful GOP enact legislation?

Of course, GOP leadership has long since been busy trying to undermine Schultz because of his independent streak, and there's every chance they'll try to come up with a more conservative, compliant Republican challenger to run against him next election.

Recalls, in other words, have slowed the Wisconsin GOP blitzkrieg of bad, far-right policy initiatives and highlighted just how reckless and unyielding GOP leadership has been -- to the point of disaffecting one of their very own.

The next round of recalls -- all but certain to happen -- are sure to put not only the governor and lieutenant governor offices into play, but also a number of Republican-held state senate seats. Schultz has not been a target fo recall, and that's a good thing. While his views don't always coincide with those of progressives, Schultz is willing to think for himself, for his constituents and for the sake of the state as a whole. And, he has been willing to work with Democrats to find badly needed common ground. There are preciously few models for that in Republican politics these days.

For all those reasons, we should be grateful for and take pains to thank Sen. Schultz. We should continue as well to thank the many, many Wisconsin residents who worked very hard last year to bring the Democrats to near parity in the Senate, slowing the Wisconsin Republican high-speed train wreck.

The job is not over, but already the benefits are manifest.

For some further thoughts on the fate of the mining bill, there's a great post over at The Political Environment which covers all of the GOP's shenanigans in trying to pursue this terrible bill. Visit: http://thepoliticalenvironment.blogspot.com/2012/02/beware-those-mining-...


March 1, 2012 - 10:35am