Former governor of Wisconsin, Patrick Lucey, passed away May 10

The 96-year-old politician served as governor from 1970 to 1977 and is credited with merging the old Wisconsin State Colleges and Wisconsin State University system into the current University of Wisconsin structure.

He isn’t known to have been a strong conservationist, and there is good reason.

It was during Lucey’s term as governor that he championed changing the term of the governor from the then two-year terms to the current four-year terms.

Lucey said that the two-year term required the governor to spend too much time campaigning every other year.

The problem with the change is that it made a big impact on the structure of appointments to the Natural Resources Board (NRB).  The NRB, and before it the Wisconsin Conservation Commission which was set up by conservationists in the 1920s, is comprised of seven citizens appointed by the governor.

Having only a two-year term made it possible that the appointments would be made by different governors.  Frequently there would be a Democrat in office (such as Lucey) and then there would be a Republican.

This system created an NRB, and before it a Conservation Commission, that was made up of people from both persuasions and they had to comprise and work together.

The result is that board members had to put politics aside and make decisions as a body based on what was best for the state’s natural resources.

This mixture of backgrounds was tilted when the Legislature passed Lucey's suggestion of four-year terms.  In 1975 Lucey finally got a majority of appointees on the NRB and board members voted to dismiss Lester P. Voigt, then secretary.  They conducted a nationwide search for a new DNR secretary.

A funny coincidence – the board found their man in Lucey’s Department of Administration, DOA secretary Anthony S. Earl. 

Tony Earl became DNR secretary in 1976, and with Earl came in Linda Reivitz as Deputy Secretary.  She had worked as an assistant to a congressman from Wausau.

Previously, contact with politicians, and the Legislature, by the DNR was all channeled through John Beale, then deputy DNR secretary under Les Voigt.  Once Earl was in place, the flood gates opened for communications between DNR employees and politicians.

Earl left the DNR in 1982 to run for governor.

Lucey’s legacy has its merits, but opening the DNR to politicians rather than people trained in conservation was not one of them.

Lucey was born in La Crosse in 1918. He worked as a grocery store manager from 1937 until 1940 and served in World War II in the Caribbean. He was elected to the state Assembly in 1948 and became executive director and later chairman of the state Democratic Party. He served as lieutenant governor in 1966.

Patrick Lucey was elected governor in 1970 and won re-election in 1974, but left midway through his second term to serve as then-President Jimmy Carter's ambassador to Mexico.

Categories: WisBlogs, Wisconsin – Tim Eisele

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