By Ryan Ekvall and M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON – Two things were all but certain going into Thursday’s extended Assembly debate on the controversial mining bill: There would be enough grand-standing to choke a Trump, and, arguably, it would all be for naught.
Assembly Republicans had more than enough votes to pass their legislation that is expected to streamline Wisconsin’s mine permit process. The legislation ultimately opens the door to a proposed $1.5 billion open-pit iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin.
While passions have flared on both sides and the rhetoric has been heavy, it may be difficult for the casual viewer not to see the sit-com in a legislative debate pitting mine-loving Republicans against environmental flag-waving Democrats.
As the bill heads to Gov. Scott Walker’s desk for his expected signature, we effectively say goodbye to this long-running dramedy, That is until the reunion through what Democrats promise will be numerous court appearances over the next couple years.
But the actors gave Wisconsin voters one final show, and it was a doozy.
Unlike “Seinfeld,” the plot of this series finale was pretty well known. Republicans for it, Democrats against. The straight party-line vote tally was 58 in favor, 39 opposed.
This wasn’t a “Friends” ending, either. It’s becoming harder to find too many friends across party lines.
There were plenty of zingers in the day-long debate, though.
Perhaps it was fitting then that Rep. Fred Clark, D-Baraboo, led the day lambasting the Assembly for becoming the “rubber stamp body” of the Legislature.
The final episode included state Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, reading Bible verses she says contradict the mining bill.
Rep. Mary Williams, R-Medford, in a pre-debate press conference opined that the Internet is one of the worst things going. She was referring to what she said was all of the misinformation on mining online. But what can you do, Williams asked resignedly, acknowledging that the Internet is free speech and all.
Republicans, perhaps sensing the bill’s fait accompli, said little – compared to their opposition – during the debate. Thus the Republican one-liner count was considerably lighter in this closing episode. They mostly stuck to their standard talking points, that an iron-ore mine would add thousands of jobs to the state’s economy.
Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, wasn’t convinced, declaring if a mine leads to mining jobs he will eat his shoe. That prompted one Wisconsin Reporter Twitter follower to ask Mason if he’d like ketchup with the shoe.
And Rep. Brett Hulsey, D-Madison, he of the box cutter allegation, informed his colleagues of his Alaskan gold-mining past. Hulsey at one point was ruled out of order for using a bacon prop. Don’t ask.
Clark was less than impressed with the show’s producers, majority Republicans who stopped every proposed Democrat amendment along the way.
“Everyone knows what’s going to happen. The story is already written,” Clark said, as the debate began.
“For most, they’re sure the story is over,” Clark said, labeling the day ahead, “very expensive state-funded theater.”
Cue Green Day’s song, “Good Riddance,” maybe best remembered as the song from the finale of NBC’s “Friends,” although it’s hard to imagine anyone had the time of their lives.
And now a recap of the best episodes from Wisconsin mining bill debate:.
1. “The One That Lasted A Long Time” – 12 hearings, 70 hours of official public testimony and debate over the past year-plus. Some Democrats say the bill was fast-tracked, but it’s hard to argue with the numbers.
2. “The One Where the Lawmaker Takes a Drink” – Democrats hate what they see as relaxed environmental standards in the mining bill. Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, her throat sounding scratchy while she made a speech about protecting Wisconsin’s – cough, cough, – water, grabbed and drank from a glass to exemplify her point.
3. “The One About Genocide” – Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians chairman Mike Wiggins told legislators if they passed the legislation it would amount to “genocide” of their people. The mine, they say, would harm the tribe’s ability to grow wild rice in their watershed. The rhetoric was repeated by Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, on the floor Thursday. Subsequent reports have found the environmentally conscious tribes has some apparent serious issues with its sewage system.
4. “The One About Wisconsin’s Flag” – Politicos brought the poor state flag into the mining debate. There was no episode more pronounced than when Walker paraded hard hats – representing mining jobs in Northern Wisconsin and manufacturing jobs in Southeast Wisconsin – to stand with him in his state of the state address. Walker spoke of the rich mining history in this state, pointing to the miner on the state flag.
5. “The One About All of Those Jobs”- Last year hundreds of trade union members turned out at the state Capitol to persuade their Democratic senators and Republican dissenter, Sen. Dale Schultz, of Richland Center, to pass the bill. It didn’t work. Republicans have promoted hundreds of generational mining jobs and thousands of ancillary jobs which would come from a $1.5 billion mine in the Penokee Hills. Democrats say this is a jobs bill for environmental lawyers who will be busy in Wisconsin courts the next few years.
6. “The One Where the Company Says It Will Leave” – After the bill failed last session, Gogebic Taconite LLC, the company proposing the mine, said it knew where it wasn’t wanted. GTAC, as the company is known, said it would pack up and head over them hills yonder. That never happened. The company kept its offices open in Hurley, Wis. Now it stands poised to get what it has always wanted.
Contact Ekvall at firstname.lastname@example.org
- In clash over Alaskan mineral lode, warnings for Wisconsin?
- State agency that lost track of millions wins big in WI mining bill
- Mine’s future uncertain, despite near-certain passage of mining bill
- No ‘Friends’ found in last episode of WI mining dramedy