A bill that would change how the secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is selected could lead to a showdown between state lawmakers and the governor.
The legislation would return the Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources to its status as a citizen appointed position. "That's the way it was for seventy years, until 1995 when Tommy Thompson made it a political agency where the secretary can be hired, and fired at a moment's notice, by the governor, says state Representative Spencer Black (D-Madison), who along Representatives Dean Kaufert (R-Neenah) and Mary Hubler (D-Rice Lake) is the bills principal author on the Assembly, where it's been introduced with the support of 51 members.
In the Senate, a companion bill from Senator Robert Wirch (D-Pleasant Prairie) already has 17 cosponsors. Black says that kind of support for a controversial measure – a majority in both houses – is unprecedented. "I can't recall a time in my career when there's been a contested, controversial bill which has had a majority of cosponsors in each house," says Black. "I think it's the job of the legislature to pass this with the strongest possible support, and the fact that we already have co-authors that constitute a majority of each house shows how strong support for this bill is going to be."
Black expects the legislation to pass in the current session of the legislature, and go to Governor Jim Doyle. After campaigning in the past in support of returning power to appoint the DNR secretary to the Natural Resources Board, Governor Doyle has reversed his position on the issue.