Walker holds closed listening session
By Robert Cloud
Gov. Scott Walker held his 58th listening session Tuesday, Aug. 23, in the lower level of the Waupaca Area Public Library.
After the closed session, Walker held a 20-minute press conference.
When asked why the listening session was not open to the public and the media, Walker compared his meetings with the public hearings held across the state for proposed legislation.
“What I’ve found with these public hearings with the budget is that hundreds of people come and they get like a minute or two to talk,” Walker said. “I thought if we’re going to do long-term planning, I really wanted to have a lengthier discussion.”
Walker said the sessions last about 90 minutes and those who attend represent a broad section of the community.
“What we try to do is get a sample of different types of people from teachers, students, pastors, farmers, small business owners, chamber of commerce, retirees, veterans,” Walker said. “You get a nice sample or slice of different people within a community.”
According to a list of names provided by the governor’s office, those who attended the session in Waupaca included 15 business owners, a nursing home CEO, president of the Waupaca Chamber of Commerce, an office manager and a salesperson.
Waupaca School District Administrator Greg Nyen was there and Dale Feldt, a Waupaca High School math teacher, brought five students.
The two candidates for state Senate District 14, Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, and Waupaca Mayor Brian Smith were also in attendance.
“Even those who wouldn’t necessarily be a political ally of mine all get an equal chance to have a say and participate and that’s what we want,” Walker said.
During Walker’s listening session, protesters gathered on the city square. One of the protesters, George Lorenz, has a letter to the editor on this week’s Opinion page.
“Walker is, I guess, trying to emulate the true listening sessions, open to all, that Sen. Russ Feingold held in all 72 counties of our state every year he was in the Senate,” Lorenz writes. “Too bad his successor and our assemblyman haven’t found the time to do the same.”
“You get some that will protest, that hate me no matter what,” Walker said. “I could do a proclamation honoring their parents and they’d say it was wrong. So there’s some people that won’t like whatever we say.”
Walker said the media is not allowed in the listening sessions because he believes it will discourage people from speaking openly.
“Open it to the media and you get one or two people who talk and the rest of the people are intimidated with TV cameras there,” Walker said. “We found that people were much more likely to talk to each other if they don’t have the TV cameras there.”
Water quality issues
For much of Wisconsin, water has become a critical issue in this year’s elections.
Testing of private wells in Kewaunee County has found widespread groundwater contamination – including nitrates and bacteria. Some of the groundwater contamination has been linked to large dairy farms and aerial spraying of manure on fields.
In central Wisconsin, high-capacity wells have been blamed for drawing down water levels at Long Lake and the Little Plover River.
The Waupaca County Post asked Walker what his administration is doing to protect Wisconsin’s water resources.
“We have new administrative rules that were proposed by the Department of Natural Resources, particularly for target areas like Kewaunee,” Walker said.
In June, a Groundwater Collaboration Workgroup, comprised of university and DNR researchers, local government officials and citizens issued a 64-page report with recommendations for long-term planning and short-term rule changes to control how manure is handled on farms in Kewaunee County.
“Arguably, large-scale operations actually have very stringent laws that were in place long before I was governor, in terms of nutrient plans and holding facilities,” Walker said. “It’s probably more likely that it (groundwater contamination) came from smaller, mid-size farms that don’t have some of those requirements in terms of storage of manure.”
Walker said his administration has worked with the Environmental Protection Agency and University of Wisconsin researchers to understand the problem.
“We’re testing every one of those wells and we’re changing the rules within that region to try and tighten things up and address that and work with the federal government, the EPA, to find an alternative plan to make sure there’s clean water,” Walker said.
Walker said the water problems in central Wisconsin are different from those in Kewaunee County.
“The unique issue there is trying to find out the balance, although trying to figure out what is exactly the source because some of the wells that were drawing down water, at least from some of the reports, were actually less than when the mill was fully operational and that was drawing down a higher amount than what these wells are,” Walker said.
Walker said the goal is to find the actual causes of lower water levels and to ensure “there’s adequate water levels.”