Thursday, February 9th, 2023
Thursday, February 9th, 2023

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Behnke, Poulson won’t budge

Editor

Madison While politics regarding board appointees continues to
play out within the state Capitol, current Natural Resources Board
(NRB) members greeted Gov. Jim Doyle’s NRB appointees cordially,
then offered two of the three a seat on the sidelines for the Jan.
22 meeting.

Doyle appointed Jonathan Ela of Madison, Alan Grischke of Wausau
and Christine Thomas of Plover to replace board members Herb Behnke
of Shawano, Dan Poulson of Madison and David Ladd of
Dodgeville.

Doyle’s announcement caused an immediate stir within the natural
resources community. Although Behnke and Poulson had been confirmed
by the Senate for their initial NRB terms, Sen. Chuck Chvala
blocked their appointment for their current terms. Senate
Republicans can opt to take the same route now that they have
majority in the Senate and, as of Jan. 22, none of Doyle’s NRB
appointments were confirmed by the Senate.

DNR lawyers studied state statutes and determined that Behnke
and Poulson may legally continue to serve on the board until the
Senate confirms their replacements. Doyle’s legal staff
concurred.

However, in Ladd’s case, because he was never confirmed (he was
appointed by former Gov. Scott McCallum in December to replace
Catherine Stepp, who won election to the Senate) by the Senate.
That meant Ela was legally able to join the board Jan. 22 as a
voting member. He did so.

Thomas and Grischke attended the meeting, but watched from the
audience. Ladd also attended the meeting, at the urging of Sen.
Neal Kedzie (R-Elkhorn), who is the chairman of Senate Environment
and Natural Resources Committee. That committee must clear the NRB
appointees. Three days before the Jan. 22 meeting, Kedzie hinted
that there’s a chance Ladd could still serve as NRB member,
although all legal opinions outside of the Senate opined
otherwise.

Kedzie is a freshman senator, but has served three terms in the
state Assembly, two terms as chairman of the Assembly Environmental
Committee, and six years as a member of the Assembly Natural
Resources Committee.

As of Jan. 22, it appeared Doyle would only be successful in
seating Thomas and Grischke on the board if Behnke and Poulson
resign.

Don’t look for that to happen.

Ladd’s situation is less clear.

“I’ve asked all of them not to resign,” Kedzie said. “They’ve
served well. They have the credentials. If we were to go with the
nominations, we wouldn’t have anyone representing agriculture, and
I view that as a gross oversight. Agriculture is the second largest
stewardship group in the state. I think it’s important that at
least one board member have an ag background.”

He said he didn’t like the fact that 127 citizen board
appointees have been caught in a political crossfire.

“Sen. Chvala prevented those people from being confirmed and now
Gov. Doyle has rejected those 127 appointees. That’s a big
interruption in continuity,” he said. “If a person resigns, or
passes away, or if their term ends, those are the three factors
that determine how long a person stays on the board. Seeing as how
that hasn’t occurred, we ought to just allow the process to work
the way it normally works.”

Neither Behnke nor Poulson are willing to resign, despite direct
pressure from Doyle’s office and staff.

Poulson did not attend the Jan. 22 NRB meeting because he was at
a national meeting of the American Farm Bureau. His staff said on
Jan. 24 that he will not resign.

As it stands now, the only NRB appointment the Senate will
consider is Ela’s.

As former DNR secretary and an attorney, George Meyer has
watched the NRB appointment process.

“Jonathan Ela can show up and vote; there is a vacancy there,”
Meyer said. “The last confirmed member was Kathy Stepp and she
resigned, she was not confirmed. David Ladd was not confirmed, so
Ela is voting member because that seat is for below Hwy. 10. He was
designated to the Ladd vacancy.

“Jim (Tiefenthaler) and Steve (Willett) will be in the same
situation (their terms expire in May). Unless the Senate confirms
their replacements, they will continue to serve,” he added.

Meyer said Senate majority leader Mary Panzer is serious about
blocking some of Doyle’s appointments.

Capitol-watchers said Panzer talked to Doyle about the
appointments and offered to compromise on some of them. Doyle
rejected the offer, so now the Republicans appear ready to play a
little “Chvala ball.”

“I am a Doyle supporter,” Meyer said, “but I am concerned the
reason these positions were established in staggered terms is so
you don’t get abrupt changes in resource policy. If it does happen
gradually, incoming board members see the reasons why policies are
the way they are. The whole reason for a board of this nature is so
you don’t get quick shifts in policy. The Senate has some very
strong logic on this matter five people in five months is a major
shift.

“You may see Sen. Panzer holding back on confirmation hearings
on Grischke and Thomas. She may suggest to Doyle that he put the
in, but in May for Tiefenthaler and Willett.

Thomas, a professor at UW-Stevens Point and founder of Becoming
an Outdoors Woman, said she will continue attending NRB meetings,
as her schedule allows, until the Senate makes a decision.

However, because Thomas serves on a number of state and national
boards, including the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, she may have
to miss a meeting or so in the next three months.

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