The problem with facts, from the Republican standpoint, is that they have a well-known liberal bias. That’s why our Wisconsin Republicans try to avoid them whenever possible.
But with so many parts of our state in environmental crisis, the Republican avoidance of truth has become destructive to both our health and our property values.
I recently attended a couple of town halls held by the Waukesha County Republicans who represent the senate and assembly districts where I live. Senator Chris Kapenga (33rd Senate District), appeared at the Pewaukee Public Library, and Representative Adam Neylon (Assembly District 98) appeared at the Waukesha Public Library with Cindi Duchow (Assembly District 99).
My head is still spinning.
Town Halls in Waukesha County (and I’ve attended them in Pewaukee, Elm Grove, Waukesha, and Brookfield) are typically mutual admiration affairs, in which Republican voters give praise and thanks for their elected representatives and reaffirm their perfect unity on the issues. Once in a while during the Walker era, a constituent would humbly ask a question, like, “When are they gonna fix the roads?”
But since November 2016, things have begun to change, and more non-Republicans are showing up to ask why we can’t have the Medicaid expansion the Federal government still wants to give us. These voters want to know why the state is spending so much money on voucher schools when so many school districts are struggling. And why the Republican Party is so devoted to interfering in women’s reproductive healthcare.
When topics like this come up, attendees are essentially told that, “the voters have spoken and they elected us.”
But when it comes to environmental issues, you’re dealing with ignorance on the part of these politicians, as well as what looks mighty like indifference.
I asked Chris Kapenga if he wasn’t concerned about the loss of valuable wetlands – needed for both flood control and water quality – since the Republican-controlled legislature, after giving Foxconn broad leeway for wetlands extermination, extended that right to any property owner who wants to develop land with a wetland on it. Developers and WMC had been chafing about wetlands regulation for some time.
After the meeting, the polite and charming Kapenga admitted he isn’t well-informed on environmental issues. The Sierra Club’s Environmental Scorecard give Kapenga a rating is 20%, which is actually kind of good, since most state Republicans have scores of 0%. Kapenga referred me to Senator Rob Cowles (Senate District 2, R-Green Bay), the Wisconsin Republican party’s environmental star, whose rating is 50%. (For the record, no Democrat, in the assembly or state senate, has a score below 90%. Many got 100%.) The scorecard reflects votes taken in the Senate and Assembly on environmental legislation.
At the Waukesha Library meeting, Neylon made an enthusiastic defense of clean energy that seemed to shock one of his conservative constituents, who complained about wind turbines and thought solar was silly. And besides, she said, Isn’t coal cheaper? Neylon, to my surprise, assured her that clean energy is cheaper than the dirty stuff the Republicans seem to love. The two finally had a meeting of the minds when Neylon assured the woman the Green Energy Revolution could easily come about without a single dime in government support.
Neylon also made an impassioned defense of Wisconsin’s Natural Resources and said our state has the third highest quality of life in the nation because of them.
That rang some alarm bells. So I asked him about residents in Kewaunee County, where many of the state’s Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CSFOs) are located, who get liquid manure out of their kitchen faucets when they turn on the taps. I also briefly mentioned the high-capacity wells that are draining lakes and the wells of nearby property owners. I didn’t get a chance to bring up lead in the drinking water that affects roughly 5% of Wisconsin’s children.
My mention of CAFOs activated Representative Cindi Duchow, a former Town of Delafield board member. She declared that she had a CAFO in her district, the operation was levied a fine, and cleaned up its act. “We have laws in this state!” Duchow shouted.
Duchow’s 99th Assembly District falls squarely within Waukesha County, and I had never heard of a CAFO here. So I called her Madison office, and one of her aids got back to me a couple of days later. Duchow, he said, was referring to a 2017 manure-spreading incident that resulted in a complaint, which was resolved with a fine.
Still, it seems odd that a member of the Assembly is unaware that in Kewaunee County some residents have liquid manure pouring out of their taps. During the Walker administration, then-attorney general Brad Schimel ruled that the state did not have the regulatory authority to impose a monitoring requirement on large animal feeding operations.
I called Neylon’s office a few days later to ask him how he felt about WEC’s approval of higher fees for people who’ve installed solar panels on their homes. Neylon has spoken out against WE Energies rate increases in the past, but when it comes down to a vote, he sticks with the party. (Neylon and Duchow both have environmental scorecard ratings of 0%.) An aid got back to me to say that Neylon supports the fees for people who have their own solar panels but need to be connected to the grid as a back-up. The fees pay for the maintenance and support of that connection.
Isn’t it about time that Wisconsin property owners figured out that their state legislature is indifferent to their rights? They know that now in Mount Pleasant. They know it in Kewaunee County. They know it in the central Sand Counties where high-capacity wells dug to service massive potato farms (the potatoes go into the manufacture of Doritos, among other things) have been leaching water from both lakes and property owners’ wells.
How many more residents have to lose their access to clean water and see their property values plummet before we have a public educated enough to demand that we save our natural resources? Because, while Adam Neylon brags about our quality of life in Wisconsin, his party and its policies have put it seriously under threat.