By Kirsten Adshead | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — Partisan discord was on full display this week in Wisconsin government.
The Assembly passed mine-permitting legislation without a single vote from Democrats on Thursday, the same day more John Doe charges were filed.
Gov. Scott Walker gave his State of the State address among GOP cheers and protesters’ “boos.”
Mining bill marches forward
Assembly Bill 426, meant to streamline the state Department of Natural Resources permit process, passed with 59 Republicans approving, and 36 Democrats opposing.
Proponents said the legislation removes unnecessary bureaucracy in the mine-permitting process and will bring much-needed jobs to the state.
Gogebic Taconite LLC has proposed an open-pit, iron ore mine in Ashland and Iron counties, a project the company projects will create 2,800 jobs.
“Today’s vote makes it crystal clear that Assembly Democrats are not and never have been serious about creating jobs,” Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, said in a statement. “Instead, they are more interested in protecting the special interests that help them get elected.”
Democrats charge that the bill does too little to protect the natural environment, and Republicans have let other job-creating bills languish.
“The bill that they have before us, I doubt, will get any Democratic votes, because there’s too many questions about whether we can protect the drinking water and other environmental concerns,” Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said Wednesday night.
The bill now moves to the state Senate, where Republicans hold a 17-16 majority.
That chamber has formed a special committee intended to draft mining legislation, but has yet to produce a mining bill.
State of the State is division
“We’re turning things around; we’re heading in the right direction,” Walker said, noting that the state has added “thousands” of jobs over the past year, fixed a $3.6 billion budget gap and bolstered Medicaid funding by $1.2 billion, all while cutting property taxes and avoiding public employee job cuts.
And, Walker said, the administration and Republicans did it without budget tricks.
The speech comes nearly a year after he introduced collective-bargaining limitations for most public-employees, legislation that is credited for this summer’s recall elections.
Democrats argue that the governor has not lived up to promises to create jobs and has overseen budget cuts that will devastate Wisconsin schools.
“Our state, previously recognized nationally as a public leader in public education, health care and good government, is now polarized and broken,” Barca said in his response to the address.
Amid an environment of recalls, however, there was an indication early Wednesday that Walker — who has been running campaign ads for months — is winning the image war.
A slight majority, 51 percent, approve of Walker, versus 46 percent who disapprove, according to a Marquette Law School poll, in contrast to other polls last year that indicated more people disapproved of Walker than approved.
The poll of 701 Wisconsin registered voters, conducted Jan. 19-22, has a margin of error of 5.7 percent.
More time for recalls
Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess also extended the time Republicans will have to challenge signatures into next month.
State law provides 10 calendar days for challenges to the signatures, which were delivered Jan. 17 to the GAB.
The GAB, which oversees the state’s elections, will have 61 days — instead of 31 — to complete its unprecedented task of reviewing signatures on recall petitions filed against Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and four GOP state senators.
But Niess left the door open to a further extension of the deadline.
“I’m putting everybody on notice that good cause (for further delays) is going to require a higher showing next time,” he said, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
Recall-related campaign finance reports, submitted Monday, indicated that Walker has a commanding fundraising lead, with a majority of his recent funding coming from out of state.
State law exempts candidates facing a potential recall from standard campaign-contribution limits, until an election has been ordered.
That enabled the governor to collect $4.5 million since Dec. 10, including $250,000 each from four donors.
Walker’s No. 1 donor, thus far, is Bob Perry,of Houston-based Perry Homes, one of the largest homebuilders in Texas, who has contributed $500,000 to the governor’s campaign since November.