The line between politics and theatre is as thin as a one-page veto message. And there’s a big show coming up Feb. 23, when the stage is set for the state Assembly to take up Governor Doyle’s veto of a very popular bill to return the hiring of the natural resources secretary to the Natural Resources Board. Since the mid 1990s, the DNR secretary has been a hireling of the governor, which many allege has made politics flow into the agency like floodwater oozing around an old dam.
Contrary to his pronouncements going back to his first campaign for governor, Doyle vetoed the legislation, making it clear he prefers the current system – a system he has used the fullest extent in calling shots at DNR from the governor’s office.
At one point, overriding Doyle’s veto looked a chip shot. Enough Assembly Republicans joined majority Democrats to pass the bill in the first place last fall. Republicans relished the prospect of making Doyle look bad, if he was overridden by his fellow Dems.
But stuff happened on the way to the override vote next week. Doyle declared he was not running again, and Republican Scott Walker is running a strong race for governor. Republicans now drool over the prospect of a Governor “let’s have a lot less government”
Even more interesting is the position of Assembly Democrats. Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan was heard telling a citizen on Conservation Lobby Day that his fellow Dems are reluctant to override Doyle’s veto for fear of making Doyle mad – that in fact, the votes were not there to override his DNR secretary veto.
But what leverage does a lame duck governor have, you ask, especially one with such bad relations with legislators?
Money – federal stimulus money that Doyle can hand out like candy to the good kids who keep in line, and also campaign money. Speaker Sheridan’s having scheduled a vote may be a sign he’ll take his chances offending Doyle, who could boost Sheridan’s political prospects by sending stimulus money to build something in the rusting behemoth of the Janesville General Motors plant in Sheridan’s district.
Then there’s the candy of campaign money Doyle can hand out to individual Assembly Democrats. It’s not much – only $500 per year for Assembly candidates – but in an unprecedented move, Doyle has donated money to the campaign committees of both Senate and Assembly Democrats – $3,000 to each committee in late December.
We shall see on Feb. 23 if Assembly Democrats have the courage to do the right thing. Their accomplishments look increasingly paltry as time winds down on this legislative session. They are sitting on a simple minimum wage law, and they seem completely captured by the payday loan industry’s lobbying and campaign cash (including Sheridan himself getting captured by a payday loan Mata Hari whom he dated).
Rat enjoys good theatre; nothing like the suspense and drama and pathos of a well-acted play. But Rat smells a rat in the Assembly Democrats’ piece de theatre next week – it is a stage show for conservation interests, to say, “Hey, we tried”? Conservationists, even while calling their legislators to push for a veto override, should be prepared for disappointment.