And here we go again in Wisconsin…of idiots and ideologues

Hear me, people: We have now to deal with another race – small and feeble when our Fathers first met them, but now great and overbearing. Strangely enough they have a mind to till the soil, and the love of possession is a disease with them. These people have made many rules that the rich may break, but the poor may not. They take their tithes from the poor and weak to support the rich and those who rule. (Chief Sitting Bull, Powder River Conference, 1877)

Is there a better processional for the parade of idiots and ideologues in the 2013 Legislative Session? The People who were here long before Wisconsin became a state were led by visionaries that understood the motivation of a white man corrupt with power.

A Mining Bill is poised to pass out of both committees this week, on the fast track to a swift vote within weeks. A bill which would mean devastation to one of the world’s great supplies of freshwater. Water which means life not only to an indigenous people, but those who have since settled and call the Bad River watershed and Lake Superior Basin home. But damn the torpedoes, science, and those inconvenient geological facts…full speed ahead Mr. and Ms. Chairman/Woman, we have (paying) corporate constituents to serve.

The only hope for defeat of this bill lies in the Republican-controlled Senate, and the possibility that four of its members still listen to a little voice most of us hear as a conscience. Dale Schultz, Mike Ellis, Robert Cowles, and Luther Olsen may be the only sane Republicans left in this biennial assemblage of insanity we still call a “Legislature.” This writer holds out hope that the smokescreen of empty jobs promises is wearing thin in a state moving closer to honorable entry into socio-economic “Dixie”…and further away from its progressive roots.

Has there been a time in our state’s recent history which more closely resembles oligarchy than democracy? The unholy triumvirate of Walker, Fitzgerald, and Vos…let’s face it, in 2010 Jeff Fitzgerald was nothing but a figurehead. Vos is, and has been pulling the strings all along. I digress. This triumvirate has the state government in lockdown, controlling the message in and out, controlling debate, the media, and god forbid anyone should sing in the Capitol. Every moment of every day is a campaign. Public policy is built on a campaign strategy, and supported by money. Lots of it. If you are on the right (literally) side, the money pool is almost unlimited. If you are on the wrong side…well, money doesn’t follow losers. And no money, no access.

Even the Capitol press corps is being kept on a short leash, with passes and access being strictly controlled by the powerful few. Say the wrong thing, write the story the wrong way, come across as the least bit partisan (read – report what we tell you to), and no access for you. End of story, end of job as a Capitol correspondent. This sort of power concentration is rare in Wisconsin. Scott Walker has power, and he is using it.

Walker is raising unprecedented amounts of money, and spending a lot of it on his legal defense fund. Let’s all be honest here…something stinks about the way Walker has campaigned, raised money, and conducted his business in and out of office. His administration is loaded with insiders, fixers, and power mongers. No interest in governing, just power and money. Crooks, liars, sharks. The smart money is that there is something illegal here…but that same money doubts the political will of a Milwaukee County DA to take on the Walker machine. But the Feds? Reminds me of something…

Richard Nixon in 1972. Re-elected, destroying McGovern in a landslide. Everyone knew, but few said it, that Richard Milhous Nixon was a crook. The media knew – but sat on the story until after the election. Once there was blood in the water, the media went in for the kill. Before Watergate, Nixon was untouchable, and had concentrated more power than almost any other president in history. The scary part is, once the scab was ripped off, no one knew how bad the wound was, or how long it would take to heal. Maybe it never has…and maybe we failed to learn the lessons of too much power in the hands of a man like Nixon…or Scott Walker. And so here we go again…in Wisconsin.

There is some light, in this dark time of plutocracy. There are voices rising above the din, who don’t rely on a Capitol press pass. We are getting one back tomorrow. John “Sly” Sylvester is back on the air Monday, February 4th from 3 – 6:30 pm. Sly will be on one of the last remaining locally owned and independent stations in the entire country – 93.7FM WEKZ. He’ll now have a three state reach – Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa. Sly will also be contributing to the good fight against Democrats who are mere posers in our neighboring states – like Rahm “NAFTA, TIF King, Kill Public Schools” Emanuel, and Pat “screw the pension fund” Quinn. Station link to listen live here.

I’ll be listening. Why? Because in this time of incredible propaganda, Sly is honest about what he says and believes. He’ll question and confront both Republicans and Democrats who turn their back on Wisconsin working families. And that is important.

The new debate on economics and education will continue to demonize teachers and other public employees. It will perpetuate the myth of impending fiscal doom to preserve the wealth of those paying to spread that myth. Scott Walker will continue to do what Sitting Bull warned about in 1877: They take their tithes from the poor and weak to support the rich and those who rule.” It is voices like Sly’s we need to call out the Walkers, Fitzes, Vos’ Emanuels, Ryans, and Johnsons of our time for what and who they are. Greedy, power-hungry, sharks and fixers who are out for blood. The life blood of Wisconsin – its people and resources in exchange for money and power.

A final quote before sign-off…a warning shot across the bow of our fragile democracy:

When democracy granted democratic methods to us in times of opposition, this was bound to happen in a democratic system. However, we…never asserted that we represented a democratic point of view, but we have declared openly that we used the democratic methods only to gain power, and that, after assuming the power, we would deny to our adversaries without any consideration the means which were granted to us in times of our opposition.

No, that was not from a Walker secret conversation with Robin Vos.

It was Dr. Paul Joseph Goebbels, 1935 propaganda pamphlet, quoted in Vol. I “Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression,” US Government Printing Office 1946 

Vigilance. Always vigilance.

Mining Bill will be voted on in Committee February 6

This afternoon Wisconsin State Senator Tom Tiffany and Rep. Mary Williams announced an Executive Session in both Senate and Assembly Committees taking up SB/AB1 (The Mining Bill).

The Assembly Committee will take up The Mining Bill in Executive Session:

Wednesday, February 6, 2013
10:00 AM
417 North (GAR Hall)

The Senate Committee will take up the Mining Bill the same day:

Wednesday, February 6, 2013
10:00 AM
201 Southeast

The Executive Session will occur three days prior to the hearing scheduled in Ashland by Senator Bob Jauch and Rep Janet Bewley, who serve constituents that would be directly impacted by a Taconite mine in the Penokee Range. That hearing is scheduled for Saturday, February 9 at the AmericInn in Ashland.

No “official” hearing is scheduled in the region, and based on the scheduled Committee hearings and likely vote to message to the full legislative bodies, the current mining bill appears to be fast tracked in spite of significant technical and legal issues with the bill as written.

A representative in Mary Williams’ office confirmed to Badger Democracy this afternoon that the bill would be voted on to refer out of committee on February 6.

The hidden danger in the Mining Bill version 2013

Tomorrow, Wednesday January 23 at 9:00 AM, Room 411 South at the Wisconsin State Capitol will be the only scheduled hearing  (for now) on the new Mining Bill.  The hearing takes place before a joint committee, and will undoubtedly be contentious. One of the greatest miscarriages of justice in this process has been the omission of participation, and lack of  recognition of the Bad River Nation and the impact on this legally sovereign entity.

This is intentional, as there is a hidden danger in the new Mining Bill which has received little attention in the press. The result, if this bill is passed, will be a bad law – which is what happens when corporate influence holds outsized sway over a legislative body. The only jobs that will be created if this bill passes will be for attorneys, and rightly so. The current bill has language that will virtually deregulate one of the greatest hazards to freshwater and the Great Lakes – sulfide ore. The passage of this bill could lead to mining activity that would turn surface water into acidic runoff, ruining the environment in one of the greatest freshwater basins on earth.

Senate/Assembly Bill 1, page 3 contains the Legislative Reference Bureau’s analysis of the change in “sulfide ore” regulation:

Current law prohibits DNR from issuing a permit for metallic mining in a sulfide ore body (a mineral deposit in which metals are mixed with sulfide minerals) unless it finds, based on information provided by the applicant, that two conditions are satisfiedUnder the bill, these conditions on issuing a permit for metallic mining in a sulfide ore body do not apply to issuing a permit for iron mining.

The expedited release of sulfide ore deposits into surface water, and the damage it causes has been well documented over several decades:

The acidic discharge and metal-laden leachate from mining activities is known as acid mine drainage (“AMD”)…AMD is one of the most damaging and widespread pollutants associated with the mining industry throughout the world.  As of 1997, over 60 mines or mineral processing plants were on CERCLA’s National Priorities List, indicating contamination so severe that it requires federally-funded cleanup. (S.R. Jennings, D.R. Neuman, and P.S. Blicker (2008). “Acid Mine Drainage and Effects on Fish Health and Ecology: A Review”. Reclamation Research Group Publication, Bozeman, MT for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Anhorage Field Office. Available online at http://www.pebblescience.org/pdfs/Final_Lit_Review_AMD.pdf)

Among some legislators associated with this bill, there is confusion regarding iron ore mining and sulfides. This confusion has been propagated by GTAC, in the hopes of keeping the facts (and legislators) in the dark. Part of the confusion is based on facts regarding iron ore mining:

It is important at the outset to clarify some common confusion surrounding sulfide mining and to distinguish it from other traditional forms of mining in the region. While iron mining has a long history and still continues in the upper Midwest, it does not involve the mining
or disturbance of sulfide ores. Iron is generally mined out of an iron oxide ore, not an iron sulfide ore, and iron oxide ores do not degrade and toxify the same way that sulfide ores do. (Environmental Protection Agency, Region 5, “Great Lakes: Basic Information.” http://www.epa.gov/greatlakes/basicinfo.html)

The Penokee Range Taconite is unique, however. A report issued by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and scientists at Michigan Tech in March, 2012 draws the distinction:

This issue can be confusing because iron sulfides (e.g., pyrite, iron disulfide) are among the most prevalent of sulfide ores, so they are often the leading causes of acid mine drainage (“AMD”) in a sulfide mining operation. This does not, however, mean that iron mines are always associated with sulfurous AMD. In fact, the presence of sulfur in an iron ore is considered a weakening factor, rendering the ore undesirable for iron extraction. Iron sulfides are simply a common byproduct of the extraction of other metals from sulfide ore bodies. 

A taconite mine that disturbs sulfide ore bodies, on the other hand, would present the same hazards as non-ferrous metallic mines. The Gogebic Taconite mine under development in northern Wisconsin is an example of a taconite mine that may disturb sulfide minerals.

A recent article published by The Wisconsin Academy titled “Ironwood: The Rocks of the Penokee Range” confirms and details the unique geological features of the formation:

Figure 2. Block diagram showing the Ironwood Formation and adjacent bedrock layers. The view is looking toward the west (from U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1730)

Geologist Tom Fitz details the composition of the “Tyler Formation;” the large, wedge-shaped layer above the “Iron-Formation” layer (see figure, above).

There is also pyrite present in the Tyler Formation, some of which would end up in the tailings as well. When pulverized and put in contact with oxygen and water at the Earth’s surface, pyrite and other sulfide minerals can undergo chemical reactions that create sulfuric acid. This acid can leach harmful metals and compounds that end up in groundwater and surface water.

It is also possible that sulfate ions released during the weathering of pyrite would affect the growth of wild rice and other elements of the sensitive ecosystem found downstream from the mine. 

 The legislation passed in January 2012 by the Wisconsin State Assembly would have decreased the rigor required in scientific studies regarding potential impacts, making assessment of potential damages difficult. At the same time it would weaken many environmental regulations that protect the Bad River and its tributaries from significant water quality changes.

THAT is the hidden danger in the current Mining Bill. The authors have created a special exception for Iron Mining, taking away the regulations and processes that will protect the surface water and Lake Superior watershed from the harmful sulfides created from extracting iron ore through a heavily pyrite layer. The waste runoff created from destruction and disposal of the sulfide ore will have a longterm impact on regional water quality:

Figure 4. Map of the Bad River Watershed showing the location of the iron ore and the Bad River Reservation

The major corporate entities poised to benefit from the bill have intentionally perpetrated a fraud in this bill, and it endangers the very lifeblood of North Central Wisconsin – the water. The reason? They cannot mine the ore because of the low price of iron, and make millions of dollars in profit unless they are able to pollute the water – and they know it. THAT is why they created this provision in the bill. From the NWF Mining Study cited above:

Wisconsin’s sulfide mining law has perhaps the greatest regulatory scope of any of the
U.S. jurisdictions surveyed…Notably, state agencies are charged with the essential task of completing the environmental review for the project in the application phase, rather than the permittee. Special attention is paid to siting criteria and water quality, and the financial assurance mechanisms are written to ensure that any necessary cleanup will be fully funded by the permittee.

If you wanted to make a quick, multi-million dollar deal on a mine, this is how you would do it.

For the record, this has NOTHING to do with creating jobs. It’s about creating a “boom” economy in North Central Wisconsin, so a few people can make a quick buck.

Who cleans up when the bubble bursts, as it always does?

New Mining Bill in Wisconsin – very much alive…

About four months ago, a controversial mining bill was declared dead. Even Gogebic Taconite President Bill Williams said the company was leaving the state because the Senate sent a “clear message that Wisconsin will not welcome iron mining. We get the message.” An investigation by Badger Democracy has revealed that announcement was misleading and premature.

Even before the failed passage of the mining bill (AB426), Scott Walker appointed Tim Sullivan (President and CEO of Bucyrus – mining equipment manufacturer) as “Special Consultant for Business and Workforce Development.” In mid-June, Sullivan himself admitted that passing a mining bill was still a top priority. However, with the DNR reporting G-TAC withdrawing its exploratory permit and “packing up the operation;” any revised mining legislation easing the permitting and regulatory process seemed unlikely – especially considering the heavy push back from citizens and political fallout.

The lobbying and money trail of G-TAC and mining interests continue to show great interest in mining legislation. It is highly unlikely a company would commit so many resources to an effort it had “given up on.” Gogebic spent over $200,000 in 2011 lobbying for mining legislation. That’s not all – G-TAC has put new lobbyists on the effort – adding 4 in November-December 2011; and one as recently as February 2012. 

Of the new lobbyists, 2 are from “Arrowhead Strategies” in Madison (Thomas Fonfara and Robert Seitz) operating out of 10 East Doty St, the same building as the Koch Industries lobby. Both have lobbied for the American Federation for Children. Jack O’Meara began lobbying for G-TAC in February 2012.

The final two recent lobbyist additions are G-TAC employees – Engineer Timothy Myers, and President Bill Williams. As the lobbying investment continues, it is unlikely G-TAC would give up on such a heavy investment – one that dates back to January 2011.

Recent Mining Bill emails disclosed under open records requests reveal a series of communications between the parties authoring the legislation early 2011. The process started at the law firm Whyte, Hirschboeck & Dudek (WHD) and attorneys Thomas Pyper and Michael S. Rogowski (at the time both lobbyists for Gogebic). Ironically, Rogowski was also a lobbyist for the Ho-Chunk Nation and has since withdrawn from Gogebic. From there, the draft legislation written by  WHD went to Walker’s office for proofing. Next – either to DNR for rule  clarification or directly to the Legislative Reference Bureau attorneys, who wrote the legislation to comport with statutory language.

Of particular interest is the exchange on page  11 of the emails. The email originates from Attorney Rogowski (Gogebic) to “Scott and Keith” – no doubt Keith Gilkes (Gov. office) and Walker himself. The email is an introduction to Marc Holtzman “meeting with Scott (Walker)” to help with his campaign – including “contributing.” Marc Holtzman is Vice-Chair of Barclay’s and failed 2006 GOP candidate for Colorado Governor from Aspen. The contact was initiated by Larry Wolk, President and COO of Correctional Healthcare Management in Colorado – now pushing for privatized correctional healthcare nationwide. Always a campaign for Walker. But we’ve digressed.

WHD senior partners have been rewarded well for their service in writing mining legislation for Walker, GOP, and G-TAC. In February 2011, Mary Stitt (husband Donald is partner with WHD) was paid $215,000 by the Walker Campaign as “lead fundraiser” for Scott Walker. In July 2011, Don Daugherty, Senior Partner at WHD was appointed to Walker’s “Judicial Selection Advisory Commission.” WHD Partners also contributed $6,000 just in individual contributions to the Walker recall campaign.

With all this effort and investment, it would seem unlikely G-TAC would just “pack it up.” This is not mere speculation – they are waiting for the right time, and it will be January 2013.

A letter dated January 16, 2012 from The Wisconsin Mining Association (Tim Sullivan, President) urged Assembly passage of AB426:

Our board is supportive of AB 426 because
we believe the legislation accomplishes…goals critical to creating a reasonable regulatory framework under which we can promote responsible iron mining in this state.

At the bottom of the list of WMA Board Members are two names – Jim and Kennan Wood, of Wood Communications Group. Today, as Badger Democracy was preparing this expose, The Progressive published a July 19, 2012 letter from Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce Senior Vice President James Buchen to Kennan Wood. The letter references a meeting between “Kurt (Bauer), Scott (Manley – WMC Director of Environment and Energy Policy), and Buchen. The strategy is laid out, confirming the lobbying activity and connecting the dots. In brief, the strategy is to continue allowing G-TAC to take the lead in any further legislation, and wait out the results of the November election – without mentioning the issue to “George Meyer, Bob Jauch, or anyone else.”

Sorry WMC, WMA, and G-TAC – your secret is out. The question is, why is this being pursued so persistently? Former chief state geologist Bruce Brown has questioned the economic feasibility of the Gogebic Taconite mine. While G-TAC had received permits to do exploratory sample drilling, they have since cancelled those permits. According to the DNR, G-TAC has not taken any core samples at the mine site. According to Brown, there are two major issues. First – the sharp pitch of the iron ore. Normal pitch is around 50-56 degrees; at the Gogebic site, the pitch is 60-70 degrees. Second, the surface  rock, according to Brown, is very deep – and may have a heavy sulfide composition creating additional costly extraction issues.

The DNR considers the Gogebic Mine to be a non-issue, remarking that the company has ceased all operations and cancelled permits. Yet they continue to invest political and financial capital into the project. If they haven’t taken samples, what are they (literally) banking on?

One anonymous DNR scientist shed some light on that question. The current mineral rights are owned by three companies – LaPoint, RGGS, and US Steel. According to the DNR, US Steel had made many exploratory efforts in the Gogebic range from 1950-1970. G-TAC is leasing the mining rights to that land from those companies. It is very possible that G-TAC has already seen results of core tests previously taken by US Steel. The effort being put into this legislative process by G-TAC is consistent with having knowledge, even if slightly outdated, that the mine would be highly profitable.

For the record, G-TAC did not respond to repeated questions regarding this article. Should the GOP take the elections in November, we will see a mining bill, written by G-TAC, again. And they will have an even greater vested interest in its passage.

You can help support independent, progressive journalism and research…Solidarity!


			

Current version of the Mining Bill will likely die today…giving momentum to the new political movement, overcoming corporate money

(UPDATE: As of 5:20 pm, the bill has been sent back to committee…this is the last gasp maneuver for the GOP Legislators to prevent the bill from dying after a 17-16 vote favoring rejection, with Schultz and all Dems voting to reject. The bill can remain in Committee until it is again calendared for a vote (should the GOP get a vote flipped), called out in a Special Session, or the regular session expires, at which point the bill would die.)

After passing out of the Joint Finance Committee with Vos/Darling Amendments in place late Monday, AB426 (aka The Mining Bill) will be taken up by the full Senate at 1:30 on Tuesday afternoon. Despite some compromise by Representative Vos and Senator Darling, the current version of the bill does not allow for “contested case hearings” until after a permit is issued. The omission of public hearings in the contested case format, lack of local control, and environmental concerns continue to be the death knell for current mining legislation.

Over the weekend and into Monday, Democratic State Senators from the Milwaukee area faced a barrage of pressure from corporate interests in support of AB426 (Bucyrus, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce). New bill supporters emerged in some Labor Unions, after Gogebic Taconite committed to hiring union workers for mining labor. A report surfaced on Blogging Blue late Monday that Senator Tim Carpenter (D-Milwaukee) was prepared to vote in favor of the bill. Speculation and concern has been rampant overnight on the vote to occur today – as Robin Vos expressed confidence in passage of the bill in an interview with Dylan Brogan on WTDY AM1670/FM 106.7

Dale Schultz held an impromptu press conference immediately after the Joint Finance hearing, where he stated:

 “I would say that the compromise that they just offered is no compromise at all. In fact, it makes a bad idea worse. We would like to make progress towards making it easier to mine in Wisconsin, but we’re not willing to do that at the expense of the environment that we all love and cherish.”

Schultz also pointed out the weakness of the compromise in contested case hearings. Under the amendment, the burden of proof would shift to favor the mining companies, and could only occur after the permit is issued. Bottom line – Schultz will be voting against. What about the Democratic Senators?

In an interview Monday afternoon with State Senator Spencer Coggs (D-Milwaukee), Badger Democracy was told that the entire Milwaukee contingent of Democratic Senators are united in their opposition to the bill. Coggs confirmed he had been contacted by pro-mining bill corporate interests, but that calls from his constituents over the weekend in opposition ran 50-1 against the bill. Coggs stated that the caucus looks to Senator Bob Jauch as the leader on the mining issue, having spent a significant amount of time studying the issue in-depth. Coggs agreed that the corporate interests may attempt to “pluck” a vote out of the Democratic Caucus or Senator Schultz, but he felt the votes will not change, nor would the opposition from constituents and citizens statewide.

 The GOP and Scott Walker will not have the votes – unless an outright theft of a Senator’s vote occurs. The hallmark bill of this Republican - controlled Legislature will not pass today. If it does, the reaction by citizens of Wisconsin should be at the level of the initial protests one year ago. After months of debate, hearings, and testimony, it has become clear the politic in Wisconsin is shifting centered around this bill. It’s demise will be a great victory for the people of Wisconsin – regardless of party or affiliation. The only losers in the defeat of this bill are out-of-state (and some in-state) corporate interests, who invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to elect politicians to push their agenda over the interests of Wisconsin. The defeat of this bill marks the first significant defeat of those corporatic interests and politicians.

It cannot and will not be the last. In a little over one week, this legislative session will come to a close – and the damage to progressive Wisconsin cannot be understated. There will be great work to reverse the damage, and elected officials must be held accountable by the people. The momentum of this movement must continue, as the people engaging in Democracy are the only counter to the millions of dollars set against them. Let this Mining Bill be the Waterloo of the Corporatic GOP in Wisconsin.

“Which shall rule – wealth or man; which shall lead – money or intellect; who shall fill public stations – educated and patriotic free men, or the feudal serfs of corporate capital?”  Edward G. Ryan, Chief Justice Wisconsin Supreme Court, June 1873

The Mining Bill – Schultz stands firm, and what Fighting Bob would say…

On Wednesday, February 29, Wisconsin State Senator Dale Schultz issued a statement that remains one of the only responsible, non-partisan, and thoughtful actions by a Republican in the 2011-2012 Legislative Session. Schultz listened to his constituents, the residents who would be affected by mining, statewide testimony, scientific experts, and stated that he could not “in good conscience” support any of the current legislation on mining now before the Legislature. With the GOP majority merely a single vote, this made the Mining Bills in the Senate and Assembly (sb488 and ab426“all but dead.”

The previous hearings on the mining bill  have offered hours of testimony (Mellen, and Platteville hearings can be viewed at the preceding links to wiseye) and ideas both opposed to and supporting mining in Wisconsin. Even amongst those supporting mining, they do so consistently with a keen eye on environmental and local economic issues. One need only compare the testimony given in those hearings with the statement of “compromise” issued by Rep. Vos and Senator Darling  ; to realize that unlike Schultz and Senator Bob Jauch, the GOP is only concerned with making the mining industry in Wisconsin happy – and eventually very, very wealthy at taxpayers’ (and the environments’) expense. Vos, Darling, and the rest of the GOP Legislators (with a little “prompting” from bill advocates Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce) have scheduled a final hearing on BOTH bills in the powerful Joint Finance Committee on Monday, March 5. All GOP Senators (save Dale Schultz) have now signed on as sponsors or co-authors of the bill. The heat has been turned up on Dale Schultz with the session coming to a close on March 15. The voices of those Wisconsinites giving personal and expert testimony have been set aside, in favor of an out-of-state, corporate profiteering agenda.

It is time for all who believe in government of, by, and for the people; whether Republican, Democrat, Progressive, Socialist, or Independent to rally to the defense of Dale Schultz and all of Wisconsin. This movement continues to make history, and the momentum and passion must be sustained if a better politic in Wisconsin is to evolve. History is on our side. We have been here before, turned away the forces of greed and corporatics, only to have lost that momentum. Let us not lose this moment to complacency or despair; rather take the lesson of history to forward the cause.

In 1874, the Wisconsin Legislature enacted the “Potter Law” in response to growing railroad monopolies. The railroads were given free rein to govern themselves, with virtually no state or federal regulation and access to public land. On April 28, 1874, Governor Taylor signed the Potter Law, and the railroads immediately responded. Alexander Mitchell (Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul RR) and Albert Keep (Chicago and Northwestern RR) released a statement that their companies were both going to “disregard” the new law, as the state of Wisconsin was infringing on their right to practice business as they saw fit. Never mind that Potters law regulated rates and practices for fairness, discrimination, and “free passes” for elected officials (a common form of bribery); the company knew its business, and the state had no right imposing.

The case went to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, and on September 25, 1874, a landmark decision was written by Justice Ryan. In it, he stated that “corporations should exist as subordinates of the state which is their creator.” The ruling was upheld by Federal Appeals and US Supreme Courts. Potter’s Law stood…until the next election.

In an unprecedented (at that time) assault on Democracy, the railroads utilized their own newspaper media and communications (along with party bosses owned by the railroads) to publicly smear Governor Taylor, inventing stories of bribery and calling supporters of Potter’s Law “The American Karl Marx.” Their plot (and investment) worked. Taylor narrowly lost his re-election bid, and in the following session the Legislature repealed Potter’s Law. This sequence of events proved inspiring to Robert M. LaFollette in his early years as a politician.

LaFollette battled against corporate, “Robber Baron” crusaders with profit as their only goal – and their attempt to buy influence and legislation amounting to a hostile takeover of democracy, public land, and the public coffers. As is the case today, the influence these corporatics held over the political and fiscal state of our nation was immense.

In LaFollette’s second inaugural speech he stated, “The real danger to Democracy is in the corrupting influence of powerful business organizations upon the Representatives of the people. The real cure for the ills of democracy is more democracy.”

The direction of legislation being forwarded by the current incarnation of the GOP eerily echoes legislation being passed a century ago. LaFollette observed “…all legislation in this era in the direction of exploitation of resources was under the claim of creating opportunity and increasing population.”  Read jobs, and benefitting the “job creators.”

It is our obligation in this movement to bring “more democracy” to the people. LaFollette won, and Wisconsin won a century ago by the direct actions of the people. That is our strength, which, as in LaFollette’s day, no amount of money could overcome. The movement will succeed, if we make it so through our actions – the Mining Bill is proof of that fact. Through public protest, outcry, engagement, and testimony this bill akin to the “Robber Baron” age will likely stall – the centerpiece of the current GOP. Take to heart these words of Robert M. LaFollette, from his “Defense of Free Speech” address to the US Senate in October of 1917, fighting a charge of sedition for speaking against war:

“Our government…is founded on the right of the people freely to discuss all matters pertaining to their government…How can that popular will express itself between elections except by meetings, speeches, publications, petitions, and by addresses to the representatives of the people? They must have the right to the freest possible discussion of EVERY question upon which their representative has acted, every measure he has supported, every vote he has cast, every speech he has made.”

The road government followed into 1924 led us into the Great Depression, as Progressives like LaFollette were voted down in Washington by powerful corporate interests. The collapse of the Market proved what plutocracy and despotism end up meaning for the middle class. The direction we are headed in today proves that the GOP is willing to reject that historical fact for the benefit of its 1% benefactors.

Just as the 1932 election ended that gilded age; let the end of this Mining Bill and the 2012 recall and regular elections prove to be the end of this gilded age. Lest the current GOP succeed in its destruction of the promises of the “New Deal”, the “Great Society”, and the Great Progressive era of Wisconsin a century ago.

Remember the history of this state, this movement, and what that promise holds for future generations. The Republican (and some Democratic) Party members by and large have forgotten…it is our duty to remind them.

Solidarity!

Fitzgerald torpedoes GOP, open government, environment for WMC and Gogebic Mine…just another day in Fitzwalkerstan

Wisconsin State Senate Majority Leader (and subject of a recall effort) Scott Fitzgerald released a statement Wednesday afternoon which, by all accounts, has left his own party in political chaos. The Juneau Republican suddenly dissolved the Senate Select Committee on Mining Jobs, and informed the Republican Caucus that the Assembly version of the Mining Bill (AB426) would be taken up in the Joint Finance Committee on Friday; likely to be fast-tracked for a vote next Tuesday.

One of the significant differences in the Senate and Assembly versions of the bill were reportedly creating issues between GOP leadership and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC). WMC not only holds the purse strings for many a GOP legislator, but have reported spending 386 hours lobbying for AB426. James Buchen, President of WMC, was recently reported as not favoring the Senate version of the bill. Gogebic Taconite was also resistant to the Senate version of the bill. Both WMC and Gogebic disliked the idea of “Contested Case Hearings” being restored in the Senate version of the bill. Contested Case Hearings would require public hearings, with “expert” testimony occurring under oath and subject to cross-examination. This factor, combined with more reasonable environmental consideration and potential for further public input in the Senate version,  have raised the ire of WMC and Gogebic.

Mining Committee Chair Neal Kedzie had scheduled two hearings – the first in Platteville (appropriate based on Platteville’s history as a center of mining in Wisconsin, and highly regarded mining program at UW-Platteville), the second in Ashland – near the proposed Gogebic mine and in Democratic State Senator Bob Jauch’s District. Kedzie also promised his Committee would consider testimony and input from the Bad River Nation in finalizing the bill; something virtually ignored by the Assembly in Mary Williams’ Committee or the Assembly draft legislation. One member of the Mining Jobs Committee, Republican State Senator Dale Schultz is cited in two reports (Wisconsin State Journal and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) as being unable to support the Assembly version of the bill. It appeared the final version of the bill, if it was to pass the Senate, would be significantly different that what Gogebic or WMC wanted.

In one drastic power play, Fitzgerald has eliminated any hope of the Senate Bill seeing the light of day in public hearings. He has assured fast-track passage of the bill out of the highly partisan Joint Finance Committee, to be available for a vote next Tuesday. This type of power play has been used against Senate Democratic members with regularity this session. In this case however, Fitzgerald has left members of his own party (including four – himself included – likely facing a recall election) highly exposed and “holding the bag.” They don’t seem particularly pleased – the question is – will this be the straw that causes the GOP camel to grow a spine?

In interviews Wednesday afternoon, three of the four (Kedzie, Cowles, and Schultz – Zipperer’s staff was unreachable) GOP Mining Committee Legislative staffers informed Badger Democracy that none of the Senators were consulted by Fitzgerald, nor were they aware the Select Committee they had served on for 5 months was being dissolved, or that the Senate Bill was virtually dead prior to reading Fitzgerald’s statement. Senator Neal Kedzie released a brief statement Wednesday afternoon, falling into lockstep with the GOP. His staffer added in a follow-up question that Senator Kedzie was “signing on as a co-sponsor ” to the Assembly Bill heading to Joint Finance, and had no further comment.  

Democratic Senators Jauch and Miller released their own statements, expressing  sheer disgust at the “declaration of war on responsible government” (Jauch). Fitzgerald’s actions today are a microcosm of the entire 2011-2012 session, and the blatant power-grab taking place at the hands of Scott Walker, The Fitzgeralds, and the GOP. There is subversion of public participation in the process at every turn, closed-door meetings, behind-the-scenes deals being cut on behalf of Corporate special interests, and an overt sell-out of the resources in Wisconsin to the most powerful and wealthy – at the expense of the majority of citizens and the environment.

The Mining Bill AB426 will pass out of Joint Finance – there is little doubt of that. The burning question lies with the Senate. In throwing his own party under the bus at a time when 4 GOP Senators will likely face recall elections, have the Corporatists and Fitzgerald finally gone too far? Kedzie, Cowles, and Schultz were left out (and Zipperer, most likely), as was the entire GOP Caucus. They reportedly spent Wednesday afternoon in meetings which were held to get them “in line.” Were they reminded of the threat from the Budget Repair Bill vote one year ago – vote with the party or face a Tea Party challenge in your next primary…loss of WMC backing…loss of ANY GOP money…?

The past year has seen courageous acts – not by any GOP legislators, but by the Democratic State Senators. The greatest of which was putting their career on the line, and standing up for what is right by denying a quorum to the GOP overreach for power. In leaving the state, they risked their own recall election, but are still standing, and representing their constituents – which is more than one can say for ANY of the GOP Senators.

In order for the Mining Bill to be blocked, two things must happen. The Joint Finance Hearing on Friday must be packed, with citizens in peaceful protest of this blatant disregard for Democracy. Fitzgerald’s actions are living proof of the strangle hold WMC and the GOP have on the idea of open, clean, and honest Government of, by, and for the people.

Finally – ONE GOP Senator must do something courageous. They must risk their political career for what they know is right. One GOP Senator must finally, after one long year, stand for Wisconsin and the people…not WMC or Corporatic interests. That Senator must understand the ends that comes from turning against your own, and the people, in the selling out of Wisconsin…and vote against this bill.

Fitzgerald must think he has (or will get) the votes one way or another, or he would not have taken this action. If the GOP falls into lockstep, yielding to the Corporatics, the New Robber Baron Age will officially be alive and thriving in Wisconsin. Scott Walker’s slogan “Open for Business” will take on new meaning – “Closed for the people and transparent government.” This is why the recall is critical and necessary. The likes of Scott Walker and Scott Fitzgerald have betrayed not only the people of the state, but their own party in a desire for power and favor with the Corporatist elite. The only remedy is the recall.

Solidarity!

Mining Bill Hearing in Committee today – amendments offered add insult to injury for local citizens, Bad River Nation

The Mining Bill (AB426) is scheduled to be debated in Rep. Mary Williams’ (R-Medford) Committee on Jobs at 10:00am today. On Friday, Williams offered 8 amendments to the bill in an attempt to put a band-aid on a cut that requires a tourniquet. Unfortunately, the Williams amendments merely skirted the issues publicly addressed in two hearings, leaving the Corporate giveaway in the bill intact. The Fiscal Estimate prepared by the DNR for the Department of Budget shows the negative revenue impact of the bill – increasing costs to the state, taxpayers, and municipalities. This Mining Bill will cost the state millions of dollars in lost fees, revenue, and recovery costs. While Williams did not consult with any Democratic members of the Committee in drafting her amendments, it is obvious the Gogebic Taconite Mining Company was heard loud and clear, in spite of the citizen outcry during two public hearings.

In an article published in today’s Indian Country Today Media Network, the 10 guidelines presented to the Walker Administration in September by the Bad River Nation are reviewed: 

1. The definition of iron mining should be clearly set forth to exclude any project proposal that has the potential to cause acid mine drainage.

2. The completeness of iron mining–permit applications should be clearly defined and the burden of preparing and submitting a complete application should be entirely on the permit applicant.

3. The permitting time frame should be reasonable, flexible and consistent with federal agency time frames. It should also provide sufficient time for the DNR, the public, federal agencies, and affected Indian tribes, to fully review and participate in the permitting process.

4. Wetland protection standards should be maintained and the federal/state partnership in the environmental review process under state and federal law should not be jeopardized.

5. Federal clean water act implementation by DNR should be corrected and not weakened.

6. There should be contested case hearings to allow full participation by interested parties, including Indian tribes.

7. There should be no preemption of local control.

8. Citizen suits should be maintained to make sure permit provisions and legal restrictions on new mines will be enforced.

9. Consultation with Indian tribes by the DNR should be required as part of the permitting process.

10. Interested party financing should be provided for the contested case hearing process.

In addition to these critical points addressed by the Nation, there are points critical to the counties and Municipalities affected by the mine:

1. There is no funding of infrastructure required before a mine becomes operational – roads, sewer upgrades, etc. This cost falls directly on municipalities, with no funding until after the mine is operational and generating revenue.

2. The revenue to local communities is reduced under this bill – even the amendment offered only increases local revenue from 50% to 60%. In previous mining legislation, there is a dedicated local fund that receives 100% of state revenue for local support of infrastructure and impact.

3. The permitting fee was $1 million, raised to only $2.2 million under the amendment – still only a fraction of the actual cost to fund a study by the DNR/US Army Corps of Engineers. The state would have to make up the remaining cost, and thus the taxpayers.

None of the amendments offered by Williams fully address ANY of the above concerns, which range from environmental to fiscal. The long-term impact of this bill is being ignored by Williams and the GOP who are more interested in a gift to Gogebic Taconite. Expect the bill to pass out of committee on partisan vote today – with concerns raised by Democratic members brushed aside by Williams and the GOP members. It is likely the bill will pass in Assembly on Thursday, with it advancing to the Senate for approval. The pressure must be kept up on this bill, with the Senate politic in flux due to recall influence, and Dale Schultz acting as a wildcard.

This is a bad bill. Period. Not even partially responsible government, it is a blatant giveaway to a GOP friendly corporation that will be one more of many to reap enormous profit at the expense of the current and future generations of Wisconsinites.

 

 

Mining Bill Hearing in the Northwoods – how public and who benefits?

The Assembly Committee on Jobs will be holding a public hearing in the district where a proposed Gogebic Taconite Mine would operate. Yielding to public pressure after holding a hearing at State Fair Park in West Allis, Rep Mary Williams (R – Medford) scheduled a hearing on Wednesday, January 11, 10:00am at the Hurley Inn. While Rep Janet Bewley (D-Ashland, whose District would be the location of the mine, and includes Hurley) applauds the committee holding a hearing in the proposed mine district, she expressed concern in a phone interview on Thursday. Bewley was concerned that she and State Senator Bob Jauch (D-Poplar, mine and hearing in his Senate District) had been put in a position to schedule an “unofficial hearing” on their own in December for January 7, due to a lack of committment from Williams to schedule one in their district. Bewley expressed concern with the time (a weekday morning) and location (a relatively moderate capacity private hotel) being able to give the public at large sufficient access to the hearing. Inquiries into the site selection and the site itself by Badger Democracy raises serious question and concern as to the hearing location.

On December 16, 2011, Bewley and Jauch sent a Letter to the Committee on Jobs offering a site and time they had already reserved for their “informal hearing.” They offered the Ashland High School Auditorium from 10am-6pm on Saturday, January 7 to be used as the venue for the official public hearing. Not only did Williams not accept the offer, she made no response to her colleagues at all.

When asked about the Hearing schedule, a spokesperson for Rep Williams told Badger Democracy on Thursday that the Hurley Inn was selected by the Committee for being “close to the mine site,” being one of the few venues in the area having a “large seating area” to accommodate the hearing, and available on short notice. The spokesman also stated that public testimony would be taken “at the Chair’s (Williams) discretion.” When a follow-up was asked regarding the offer letter from Bewley and Jauch, the Williams staff stated that they had no knowledge of such a letter, and Saturday was unacceptable, as page staff would “have to be paid overtime if we hold the hearing on a Saturday.” It is notable that Rep Kapenga’s office recalled receiving the letter, as had Rep Pasch’s staff (one Democrat, one Republican – both on the Committee). According to Rep Bewley’s office, the letters were hand-delivered by pages to all committee members.

While the Williams staffer explained the Hurley Inn was chosen because someone “recommended it” to the Committee, there are no Representatives on the Committee who could recall the identity of the person making the suggestion. According to both Jauch and Bewley, hearings in the area are generally held at one of the area school auditoriums for capacity and access purposes. Williams’ office explained they had first contacted schools, but they were not willing to host a hearing during a school day, and would not “arrange for early release.”

According to state records, the registered agent for the Hurley Inn is Frederick Schellgell, an attorney from Mercer, WI. Schellgell is the attorney of record for Peter Giovanoni of Hurley, WI, according to the Schellgell law office. While the General Manager of the Inn refused to disclose the owner of the hotel, Hurley Chamber of Commerce records name Giovanoni as the owner (the Inn even has a bar named “Pete’s Place”). When confronted with this information, the Inn Manager claimed she “really doesn’t know who the owners are, or what the ownership structure is.” A Hurley Chamber contact confirmed this ownership information for Badger Democracy.

Peter Giovanoni is also owner of Superior Excavation of Hurley, and has an extensive record of Civil Judgements against him in multiple Wisconsin counties. One of the most recent occurred in Marathon County in 2011. A Marathon County representative in a phone interview told Badger Democracy that Mr. Giovanoni had arranged a line of credit with the County for solid waste disposal from his excavating business. Mr. Giovanoni failed to pay, and after avoiding summons service the county was forced to seek a default judgement against him. Default Judgement in the amount of $27,922.38 was entered on August 30, 2011. Mr. Giovanoni never appeared.  The court records search indicates a pattern of this type of activity, along with tax and revenue judgements. This raises several questions surrounding the Hearing and the Inn.

The Inn Manager told Badger Democracy the Inn is for sale. Is Giovanoni liquidating his assets before they are found out by Marathon County and other creditors?

How was this locale REALLY chosen? Who recommended this location to the committee, and do they have any ties to Giovanoni or his family (small but frequent GOP contributors - most recently JB VanHollen)?

Will Mr. Giovanoni benefit from this arrangement? A regional excavation company owner also owns the private location, hosting a partisan hearing on pending mining legislation, that his company could potentially profit from. Or is a lucrative state contract in the works for Superior Mining? A contract that could easily pay off thousands of dollars in civil forfeiture.

Finally, who will fill the hall at the Hurley Inn for this hearing? Will the privately-owned hotel be filled with those friendly to the bill, only to have the room full before the public at large arrives at the hotel?

Nothing is surprising anymore in Fitzwalkerstan. Arrive early, and stay vigilant. A note to all legislators – any state contract for Superior Excavation should be red flagged.  

 

And the author of the mining bill is…no surprise

A source at the Legislative Reference Bureau has confirmed for Badger Democracy that Mark Honadel (R-South Milwaukee) is the author of the Mining Bill. Honadel received money from Gogebic Taconite in his last campaign and is an American Legislative Exchange Council(ALEC) member. Links to Government Accountability Board information, Campaign Contributions, ALEC information, and lobbyists can be found in the December 11 Badger Democracy blog “The Alec-Koch Pipeline to Wisconsin Legislators and the Mining Bill.”

Badger Democracy is awaiting a reply to a related Open Records Request.