Posted by: JanF | August 24, 2013

“The River Won”: Building the future upon our progressive past

People who care deeply about Wisconsin have had every reason to feel despair about what has happened to our great state over the past three years. But on Thursday, a river won an important battle and that win can lead the way for a return to the values from our past.


This is what a winning river looks like

In November 2010, a low turnout mid-term election led to a drastic change in Wisconsin government that threatened to destroy everything that makes Wisconsin special. Fueled by teaparty anger over lies about the Affordable Care Act and unfocused anger over the Bush Recession and bank bailouts, voters who were intent on finding someone to blame, chose to install Republican Scott Walker as governor.

Wisconsin has a long progressive tradition dating back decades and including the original progressive, Fighting Bob LaFollette. The state is the birthplace of the 40-hour work week and workers compensation and known for its history of standing up for the rights of working people and pushing back against discrimination. And for caring very deeply about the land.

The Walker Way began its reign of terror by passing laws intended to destroy labor unions in Wisconsin (starting with Act 10 and public employee unions), defunding public education in favor of private schools, and removing regulations that protect our natural resources under the guise of being “business friendly”. Gov. Walker and his legislative accomplices declared Wisconsin “Open for Business” by inviting their corporate sponsors to plunder the state without either paying back or cleaning up.

But the Walker Way ran into the Wisconsin ways, the good government tradition that, thankfully, also included some official oversight that could stop the worst practices of those who have no interest in our state other than how they can use it to improve their bottom line (or, as in the case of Scott Walker, improving his national political ambitions).

What are these Wisconsin ways? For one thing, the Lower Wisconsin Riverway Board:

The Riverway legislation was born from a compromise crafted by legislators from both political parties. The Riverway extends 92.3 miles from below the dam at Prairie du Sac to the confluence with the Mississippi River near Prairie du Chien and encompasses 79,275 acres. The Department of Natural Resources is responsible for administering a land acquisition program within the project boundaries.

The Lower Wisconsin State Riverway Board, was created to administer the new law. The Board is composed of nine members of which six must be local residents or local elected officials from the affected counties (Columbia, Crawford, Dane, Grant, Iowa, Richland and Sauk). The agency administers a system of “performance standards” which are designed to protect the aesthetic integrity of the Riverway. Permits are required for structures, timber harvesting, utility facilities and other activities.

In the olden days, pre-2010, Wisconsin crafted bi-partisan legislation that respected the land and its value to tourism and the value to humans for those pesky things like “breathing” and “drinking clean water”.

And what did they do? This: Lower Wisconsin State Riverway Board denies access to frac sand mine:

Advocates for preserving the natural character of the state-protected Lower Wisconsin Riverway are claiming “the river won” following a vote late Thursday against permitting a frac sand mine to operate near the shore in Bridgeport.

“I’m just thrilled,” said Edie Ehlert, coordinator with the Crawford Stewardship Project, following the 6-2 vote by the state-sanctioned Riverway board. “They voted for the intent of the law. They voted for the river.”

The vote (one member was absent) means a frac sand mine owned by Iowa-based Pattison Sand Co. cannot extend 41 acres into the protected riverway, as originally planned.[…]

The land is located about five miles west of Wyalusing State Park.

One more time: THE RIVER WON!!. And in winning, the river showed us that decades of caring about our state cannot be undone in one awful election cycle.

Wisconsin has an important election in 2014. We may not be able to overcome the impact of the gerrymandering (another “benefit” of the low-turnout 2010 election) to take back the State Senate that we held briefly last year. But we can, and we must, do everything we can to elect a governor, a Democratic governor, who respects our state and her people and who will run the government the Wisconsin Way.

When people don’t vote in mid-term elections because they think that those elections are not important, we risk losing more than those elections … we risk losing a way of life that we cherish, for ourselves and for our children and grandchildren.

When we vote, we win. And so do our rivers.

Advertisements

Responses

  1. May the values that sustain the river do the same for Wisconsin’s progressive heritage. In the photo the river looks strong and timeless. But what has happened in Wisconsin is a powerful reminder of how vulnerable we all are when we elect the wrong people to positions of power.

    • It is timeless! From the Cap Times article:

      Melody Moore, a town of Mazomanie supervisor who represents Dane County on the Riverway Board, voted against allowing the mine in the riverway. Prior to the vote, she read out loud an article in which authors of the riverway ordinance, including retired state Rep. Spencer Black, were quoted as saying the ordinance was not designed to allow for industrial mines when it was written in the late 1980s.

      “I am delighted with the decision,” said Black, who said he celebrated by biking about 30 miles from his Madison home to the riverway Friday morning. “I think it is an important vote not just because of this one mine but because it is a vote to maintain the integrity of the protection of the riverway.”

      The riverway was protected by people like Rep. Black so that we all might enjoy it.


Categories