Scott Walker's myriad attacks on middle and working class Wisconsinites, unions, educators, voters rights, and government employees have been discussed at length, and are reason enough to recall him. Add the gross corruption, perp walks, and arrests of Walker aides which have even been featured in mainstream corporate media, and we begin to get a picture of a politician who is unfit to hold high office.
However, even without these egregious moves of self-aggrandizement and sycophancy to the likes of the Koch Brothers, Scott Walker's retrograde assaults on environmental programs, renewable energy, and sustainable transportation in the public good demonstrate that he is a clear and present danger to the state's citizenry, and an affront to the state's proud tradition of environmental leadership and clean, progressive politics. Rather, we shall see that Scott Walker's anti-environmental policies hew to the basest and most corrupt elements, which are another strain of Wisconsin's history that has been largely sent down the memory hole.
Follow me below the filigree for the sordid details...
Wisconsin historically has had a great tradition of progressivism and forward thinking, from populist progressives such as Bob Lafollette, and workers rights, such as being one of the first states to allow collective bargaining among state employees in the late 1950s. Wisconsin also pioneered many programs that have helped regular people, even well into the 1990s and even under Republicans such as Tommy Thompson, who conceived and implemented Badgercare, the successful health insurance program for low and moderate income parents and their children, which is one of the programs Walker and his radical right-wing cronies in the state legislature want to drastically cut.
Similarly, Wisconsin has incubated more than its share of environmental leaders as well. The environment of the Wisconsin Dells region awed John Muir in his formative years and set him on the path to be a pioneer in wilderness preservation and to found the Sierra Club. In the 1930s and 1940s, the field of ecology took a great leap forward through the seminal works of Aldo Leopold, who popularized the concept of a land ethic through his Sand County Almanac, and the idea that an ecosystem is more than the sum of its parts,and was the first to document the importance of biodiversity. Other contemporaries of Leopold, included John Curtis, who pioneered the science of restoration ecology, creating as part of his research the first restored prairie,
the Curtis Prairie, in the 1930s, employing CCC and WPA labor
as well as the seminal Vegetation of Wisconsin, the most exhaustive and detailed study of plant communities and the effects of human activities on them to date.
Wisconsin's most famous historical political figures have also been strong environmental advocates and have thrown their support behind programs such as this and the Wisconsin Idea as the university for research laboratory for policymaking in the public interest (another program under assault by Scott Walker with
$46.1 million in cuts this year and another $19.7 million in 2012-13.). These giants included Gaylord Nelson, governor and Senator representing Wisconsin from the late 1950s until 1980, who was the main founder of Earth Day, and William Proxmire, a good government advocate for frugality who would make the "Austerity Republicans" and corporatist blue dogs blush with their hypocrisy. He famously won campaigns with only a few hundred dollars in campaign funds, and fought the financial industry and oil subsidies, and for an end to genocide.
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However, there is a dark side to Wisconsin. Racism, cronyism, classism...The German-American Bund was a pro-nazi, anti-labor, German nationalist organization that had it's greatest strength outside the New York area, one of whose leaders, Joseph Froboese, was from Milwaukee. My grandfather on my mothers side, from Dodge County, WI, detested them. Later came Joe McCarthy, the famous dissembling senator whose namesake, McCarthyism, became synonymous with unsubstantiated witch hunts made up out of whole cloth. McCarthy was a lackluster, do nothing Senator who was part of Truman's famous "Do Nothing Congress", and introduced little substantive legislation. He did, however, vote for the Taft-Hartley Act as any good rightwing Republican would, and in the vein of our current governor, prone to ridiculous statements and exaggerations. Some whoppers from McCarthy grossly overstated the number and quality of the combat missions he flew, and attributed a wound he received partying crossing the Equator to combat injuries. Sounds suspiciously like a lot of today's Republican hack politicians.
Worse, however, than McCarthy was the rise of powerful, corrupting right wing business interests in Wisconsin, without which Scott Walker would have not been possible. Meet the the big bucks behind the John Birch Society which at the time was rightly ridiculed as full of crackpot, right wing conspiracy theory nuttery.. Harry Bradley, whose Allen-Bradley company discriminated against women and minorities for decades, fought unionization and was one of the last large Wisconsin-based corporations to integrate, was, along with John Welch and Fred Koch (father of the current notorious Koch brothers), a charter founder and financier of the John Birch society in the late 1950s. Upon Harry Bradley's death in 1965, the family fortune was utilized to create the rightwing Bradley Foundation (worth over $600 million), whose contributions to reactionary politics equal those of the higher profile foundations of the Scaifes and the Koch Brothers. The rivers of cash from Bradley have funded Walker commercials, and rightwing think tanks and media efforts on behalf of Walker and other regressives in Wisconsin. These groups have included the MacIver institute and the Wisconsin Policy Research institute. The Bradley Foundation, along with the Kochs, is also a ALEC, the right wing corporatist policymaking group for state and local government, and wellspring for much of Scott Walker's toxic proposals (many of these have been duplicated by the reactionary governors of Florida, Michigan and Ohio).
In fact, the Bradley Foundation took Walker under its wing. 60 years of right wing policymaking culminated in Michael Grebe, executive director of the foundation, serving as Scott Walkers campaign and transition team chairman.
Such incestuous relationships have led to the basest of corruption, and appointment of political hacks to direct government agencies such as the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) within the Walker administration. This has formed the basis of crass policymaking not on the basis of science, or the public interest, but on the basis of ignorant or uninformed interest groups, and most of all for the benefit of deep pocket campaign contributors and cronies. The appointment of Cathy Stepp as WDNR secretary is an excellent case in point. Stepp is a former Republican state senator and real estate developer with no background in science or environmental law, or managing a large agency, and her deputy director similarly has no environmental experience, being director of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Builders Association.
Accomplishments of Cathy Stepp's DNR and the reactionary legislation hatched by Scott Walker and his ALEC cronies in the state legislature have included gutting of wetlands regulation to favor a major campaign contributor who wanted to build a Bass Pro Shop. The optics of this were so bad that Bass Pro pulled out of the project. The legislature, however is persistent in continuing to gut wetlands protection by eliminating special resource protection status for certain wetlands, and forcing cost-benefit analysis, which is nearly always biased towards development and resource extraction.
Stepp promised to make the DNR "more customer friendly", as if it were a for profit business. Fitting in the vein of so-called customer service, and pandering to ignorant, but vocal constituencies, Stepp appointed James Kroll, aka Dr. Deer a Texas specialist in enlarging and fattening up deer herds, jettisoning over 70 years of homegrown studies and experience in local deer biology going back to Aldo Leopold. All in order to satisfy a constituency of slob hunters who were complaining that the deer herd was too small and they were not bagging enough deer (Here in SE Wisconsin where I live I see deer on a daily basis, so I fail to see the problem). Additional pandering took the form of praising Federal progress towards removing gray wolves from the endangered species list. and to study the effects of natural predators (which are very scarce) on the deer herd, to assuage farmers over-reacting about wolf livestock kills and slob hunters complaining about too few deer.
However, the real hunters are concerned with the give-aways of habitat. Stepp proposed selling off public lands, which has hacked off the bowhunting community, and is in agreement with the reactionaries in the state legislature who have now suspended further designation of protections for ecologically sensitive or scientifically important waters of the state. With these blatant disregards for biodiversity, single-species and anthropocentric land management such as managing the state like a deer hunting preserve, and with statements such as this
And in a post on a conservative blog last year, Stepp said the people who work at the DNR tend to be "anti-development, anti-transportation, and pro-garter snakes, karner blue butterflies, etc." In the same post, she called agency employees "unelected bureaucrats" who tend to "come up with some pretty outrageous stuff that those of us in the real world have to contend with."Aldo Leopold, John Curtis, and Gaylord Nelson are spinning in their graves. Further affronts to the land ethic (or lack thereof) of Scott Walker and his ALEC-Koch-Bradley sycophants in the state Legislature have included a 30 percent cut in the state stewardship fund and redirection of monies away from land preservation and towards development. Other shenanigans include relaxation of clean water testing requirements for municipal water supplies, as if the Milwaukee cryptosporidium outbreak never happened, and rollbacks of phosphorus and shoreland protection regulations that had recently passed, a sop to developers and factory farmers. Unfortunately this may come back and bite Wisconsins economy in the butt, as property values and tourism drop when lakes become algae clogged due to the runoff. Finally, the relaxation of regulations for water protection are also paving the way for a huge open pit mine in the Penokee range in far northern Wisconsin that stands to threaten outstanding resource waters in the state. All to reward another out of state campaign contributor, Cline Industries, aka Gogebic Taconite.
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The foolishness of the land non-ethic of Scotty, and his legislative miscreants in this vein, as disgusting as they may be, pale in comparison to the absolute and total fealty to out of state fossil fuel interests. At least the cutbacks on environmental preservation activities, as sickening as they are, actually save the state money (in the short term). The energy policies alone show that Scott Walker's campaign slogan "Believe in Wisconsin Again" is so much hogwash. He believes so much in Wisconsin that he thinks shipping over 9 billion dollars out of state each year for fossil fuels, and canceling the state office of energy independence and over 398 MW of major wind energy projects in Wisconsin and up to 1.8 billion of investment in the state is a great idea. Walker is the poster child for why the initials GOP for the Republican Party stand for Greed, Oil and Power. Every energy policy and transportation initiative of Scott Walker is all about increasing or maintaining massive consumption of fossil fuels in Wisconsin, be it coal, or oil from the Koch Brothers, who supply as much as 40 percent of Wisconsin's gasoline from dirty Alberta Tar Sands oil.
Scott Walker's energy policies are so egregious and based on waste that even the right wing Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorialized against him. His wind regulation was so extreme that even the 1250 foot consensus set back for large wind farms that was hammered out by the public service commission and passed in committee on a bipartisan basis was not good enough. Walker wanted an 1800 foot set back, the most restrictive in the nation. This resulted in cancellation of four major wind energy projects, a benefit to his cronies in the coal industry, not to mention the Kochs. Of further interest on the crony capitalist front, Walker's budget included the selling off of state owned power plants and abdicating the responsibility of cleaning them up, and ensuring that a local power plant in Madison would never be fueled using local biomass feedstock. Walker has also slashed Focus on Energy, a conservation and efficiency retrofitting program and state funding for recycling by 40 percent.
Common sense, sustainable programs such as this one which address the fact that over 70 percent of electric power generation in Wisconsin are from out of state sources such as dirty coal, and all transportation fuels come from out of state, don't even register on the Walker radar screen, and have been thoroughly rolled back.
Last but not least, Scott Walker's hypocrisy on government spending and frugality, and dedication to fossil fuels is laid bare by his profligate choice of state vehicle. In his campaign, Walker mentioned that he drove his old 1998 Saturn and packed a brown bag lunch to cut costs, but upon taking office leased an $46,000 gas guzzling 2011 GMC Yukon that cost tax payers over $2,000 for the first month it was driven. While Walker complained that he needed a larger vehicle in which his family of four could fit, that was disingenous. Nearly all vehicles can comfortably fit a family of 4, including many fuel efficient ones. To Scott Walker, economies are certainly built around waste and exploitation of resources.
Walker's dedication to waste and fossil fuels have also extended to his retrograde transportation policies, which again are focused around consuming more fossil fuels at any cost, despite average US figures showing that annual gasoline costs are exceeding over $4000 per family, getting uncomfortably close to 10 percent of the median family income in the US. Yet Walker and the myopic Koch-heads in the state legislature persist with the highways or no way transportation policies, which include a major $4 billion expansion of I-90 between Madison and Illinois state line, and gutting or destruction of each and every public transportation program, existing or proposed.
This wrongheaded transportation policy has resulted in the following actions which have set back sustainable transportation in Wisconsin for years. The Sierra Club summarizes them concisely here. They include a 10% cut to state funding of public transportation in Wisconsin, cancellation of local authorities to create "regional transportation authorities" (RTA's), refusal and cancellation of the $810 million Federal grant to build high speed rail from Madison to Milwaukee, as well as improving the Chicago-Milwaukee leg of the same route, and effectively wiping out the approved and funded KRM (Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee) commuter rail line by rescinding its bonding authority. This now dead commuter rail line would have tied into the highly successful Metra commuter rail system serving Chicago, which has even been praised by arch-conservatives such as Paul Weyrich.
Nearly four years ago, I wrote a diary about Wisconsin's anti train bias. Little did I know it would get even worse. The lack of an RTA in Wisconsin led to the loss of commuter rail service to Chicago from Walworth County, where I live, while the fact that RTA existed just across the state line in Illinois saved most of the commuter rail lines there. Of course, the reactionary right depends on an ahistorical perspective, strangling rail transit.
Few people know that Wisconsin was once on the cutting edge of rail transport and technology. Milwaukee once boasted over 270 miles of electrified light rail, which was eliminated during the transportation holocaust of the 1930s-1960s when the road, oil and gas, and rubber tire lobbies, aided by corporate welfare from the government, colluded in their destruction. Milwaukee also boasted the headquarters of the Milwaukee Road and their main shops, which built and maintained rail cars for the legendary Hiawathas, which ran the ALCO F7, one of the two fastest steam locomotives in the world which regularly exceeded 100 mph and pushed 125 mph top speeds.
These powerful locomotives, and their diesel powered immediate successors from the late 1930s through the mid '50s, traveling through Milwaukee propelled the Hiawathas through their 400 mile trip from Chicago to St Paul, Minnesota in as little as 6 hours and 15 minutes. The current Empire Builder travels the identical route and stops and now takes 8 hours and 16 minutes.
Basically, the proposed and approved Madison-Milwaukee link would have once again made an attempt to begin restoring a system that was once the worlds finest and fastest. Of course such things don't matter to do nothing, can't do Republicans like Scott Walker. What is even worse is that rejecting the federally funded high speed rail link from Madison to Milwaukee will cost Wisconsin taxpayers over 99 million dollars as a result of canceled contracts, and expenses related to improvements on the Milwaukee-Chicago leg of the rail line, that was to have been covered under the 810 million dollar Federal grant that was to have also built the Milwaukee-Madison line. Additionally, the Talgo plant in Milwaukee that was to have built and maintained the rolling stock is to close in less than three years, costing the state 60 jobs. The maintenance and operating costs to the state of Wisconsin of the Madison-Milwaukee segment of the high speed rail were to be under $1 million; these could have been covered for 50 years or more for the cost to the state of rejecting the Federal grant and not building the railroad. The operating costs were what Walker used in justifying the cancellation of the rail service. So much for Walker's fiscal responsibility.
Lastly, Scott Walker's "believe in Wisconsin Again" has led to more outsourcing and bad policy with regards to transportation, and again Koch was involved, if only tangentially. This involved William Gardner, the executive of Wisconsin and Southern Railroad which happens to be the only railroad based in Wisconsin, specializing in short freight runs serving smaller to mid sized Wisconsin towns. He was convicted of breaking campaign finance laws and it was even too much for corrupt Scott Walker, who returned over $43,000 in campaign contributions. Now comes a sale of the Wisconsin and Southern to Watco, a Kansas based firm who has boasted that their largest customer is Koch Industries, of the notorious Koch brothers. State representatives have asked that the sale be blocked pending an investigation into the irregularities and to protect the taxpayers' interest in the 60 million spent by the state to build infrastructure for the Wisconsin and Southern.
To conclude, Walker's MO is to outsource everything to the highest bidder, environment be damned. Weekly there is another horror show emanating from the corrupt bought and paid for tools in the Greed, Oil and Power dominated state legislature and the governor's mansion at the expense of the environment and the 99 percent of Wisconsinites who are non-wealthy and/or non-connected to large out of state corporations. This torrent of anti-environment, anti sustainability and anti-worker initiatives from Walker is impossible to contain within one diary; it would fill dozens of pages.
If you want a concise summary of Scott Walker's assault on the environment, here is a quickie from the Wisconsin Sierra Club.
And, to keep up with the daily and weekly transgressions of the Walker Regime, with excellent well-sourced discussions, look to the Scott Walker Watch.
Disclaimer: I work in the field of ecological restoration and sustainable landscaping. Walker's assault on the environment has hammered my bottom line through rolling back environmental protection and by breaking the state economy. I have had multiple clients cut back on the work they want me to do. It is an existential threat to my livelihood.