State Government and Political Roundup: Senators vote in favor of changes to mining regulationsWisconsin News
-- A proposed iron ore mine in far northern Wisconsin has cleared its most difficult political hurdle.
MADISON - A proposed iron ore mine in far northern Wisconsin has cleared its most difficult political hurdle. Wisconsin senators voted 17-16 last night in favor of sweeping changes in the state’s mining regulations.
They’ll go to the state Assembly next week, where a 20-vote Republican majority will appear to give easy approval. And soon after, GOP Governor Scott Walker is expected to sign what Senate Republican Tom Tiffany of Hazelhurst called “the first step in the rebirth of the mining industry.” Democrats warned that such a renaissance would be years away, as mining opponents drag the issue through the courts. Bob Jauch of Poplar called the bill a corporate giveaway. Dale Schultz of Richland Center – the only Republican to join Democrats in voting no – said it would lead to environmental damage and a boom-to-bust economy in the north. Indians who fear damage to their water quality chanted and drummed in the Capitol Rotunda during the day. One protestor told senators after the vote, “Thank you for signing our death warrant.” The package is designed to help Gogebic Taconite create hundreds of jobs with the largest mine in state history, to be located in Ashland and Iron counties.
During hours of debate, the GOP majority swept away a dozen Democratic amendments by the same one-vote margin. Among other things, they would have further regulated the dumping of waste rock, forced miners to pay taxes for extracting materials even if they don’t make a profit, and letting the public continue to object to mining proposals in hearings before permits are issued. Tiffany said technology has advanced to the point in which the issue is no longer jobs-versus-the-environment. He said the state could have both.
The man who replaced Scott Walker as the Milwaukee County Executive says he’s not interested in the chance to replace Walker again in next year’s governor’s election. Chris Abele said he ran for the executive’s job because he wanted to make a difference in Milwaukee County – and not because it would be a stepping stone to a higher office. When Abele ran for the job in 2011, he tried to keep his opponent down by tying him to Walker’s signature legislation – the virtual end of public union bargaining. But since taking office, Abele says he has tried to work in tandem with Walker. Abele made his comments in a recent interview on the Wisconsin-Eye cable channel. They were made timely this week, when a new poll mentioned a potential list of Democratic challengers to the Republican Walker in 2014. The list included former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, the only one to lead Walker in a head-to-head poll right now. The others are La Crosse Congressman Ron Kind, state Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, state Senator Jon Erpenbach, former Congressman Steve Kagen, and ex-Lieutenant Governor nominee Mahlon Mitchell. One name not mentioned was Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who lost to Walker in both 2010 and in last year’s recall contest.
The owner of a Waukesha County window cleaning business is the official winner of a state Assembly primary, by just 29 votes. An official canvass of the 52-hundred ballots was completed yesterday – and Adam Neylon was declared the winner. He gained three votes from the Election Night total – and it gave him 2,006 to 1,977 for Pewaukee Police Chief Ed Baumann. Baumann gained four votes as a result of the canvass. He has until five p.m. Monday to ask for a recount – but he would have to pay for it himself, since the margin is more than one-half-of-one-percent. The eventual primary is expected to win the Assembly seat in April, since no Democrats are on the ballot. Neylon is in line to replace Paul Farrow, who was elected to the state Senate in a special balloting last December.
Wisconsin Republicans keep saying that job creation is No. 1 – but at least one Democrat accuses the GOP of picking winners-and-losers in that pursuit. Stevens Point Senator Julie Lassa scolded her majority colleagues on the Senate floor last night, right after they voted to make it easier for Gogebic Taconite to start an iron ore mine in the name of creating jobs. Lassa said lawmakers might have voted to let her hometown software firm of Skyward leave Wisconsin, by deciding last year to allow only one vendor instead of two develop a statewide student information system. A Minnesota firm won the contract but Skyward is appealing, saying it was not evaluated properly. If Skyward doesn’t win its appeal, the home-grown firm says it would have no choice but to leave. Lassa told her Senate colleagues quote, “We’ve chosen to make a winner out of a West Virginia coal mining company when at the same time, we have a Wisconsin company who’s ready and willing to create 600 good-paying jobs within the next 10 years … and we’re closing the door on them.” Gogebic Taconite is part of the Florida-based Cline Group, which operates coal mines in West Virginia.