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Where the Gubernatorial Candidates Stand

by Belle Bergner and Timothy Schaefer

We’ve taken four specific issues, presented some history on each, and the positions of Republican, Democratic and Green candidates for Governor. You make the choice for whom to vote – but read carefully and consider the legacy that the next Governor of Wisconsin is capable of leaving for the next generation.

Same-Sex Marriage

A referendum on the November 7 ballot will allow voters to decide whether or not a provision barring same-sex marriages will be added to the Wisconsin constitution.

While marriage in Wisconsin is already defined as between a man and a woman, the amendment may change the rights of all unmarried couples as well. The second part of the amendment states that “a legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized in this state.” In an anonymous October 7th editorial in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, “Hazy wording makes amendment a risk,” the author questioned how narrowly the terms “legal status” and “substantially similar” will be interpreted. “Recognition of guardianships, co-parenting agreements and certain estate planning devices may be in jeopardy.” That the amendment will ban same-sex marriages and civil unions is not disputed, but the effect on the legal status of unmarried couples, gay or not, is uncertain.

Governor Doyle has consistently opposed the amendment, although he does not support legalizing gay marriage. His opponent, U.S. Rep. Mark Green, supports the change. Voters are much more divided on the Wisconsin initiative than they have been on similar amendments in other states. According to an Oct. 15 Wisconsin State Journal article, Wisconsinites favor the amendment by anywhere between 8 and 14 percentage points, with a margin of error of 4.

The Wisconsin Coalition for Traditional Marriage, proponents of the amendment, say that the second part of the amendment is intended to “protect the people of Wisconsin from having a court impose ‘look-alike’ or ‘Vermont-style’ homosexual marriage,” referring to Vermont’s straight-sex civil unions. Concerns about the vagueness of the amendment’s wording are described as “scare tactics.” The pro-amendment movement, spearheaded by the WCTM, has largely focused its efforts on increasing turnout from members of conservative and evangelical churches. According to the Wisconsin State Journal, the WCTM has “sent out 4,000 professionally produced DVDs on the issue to conservative churches around the state, and is now planning to send out 2,000 more.”

FAIR Wisconsin, the most prominent organization opposing the amendment, has made somewhat broader appeals, acknowledging the limited public support for full legalization of gay marriage. It points out that voting down the amendment would preserve the status quo, while approving it may have much broader implications, echoing the Journal-Sentinel’s concerns. This has been the main thrust of the opposition’s arguments, in a political climate where similar state initiatives have been an effective way for Republicans to bring out their base in previous elections.

“Wisconsin residents should vote “no” on the amendment,” says Nelson Eisman, Green Party gubernatorial candidate. He believes that the constitution is a vehicle to make rights – not take them away, that children being raised by gay parents are just as likely to be loved and cared for as those raised by nongay parents.

Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund

Named after former Governors Gaylord Nelson and Warren Knowles, the Stewardship Fund was created in 1989 to protect and preserve valuable natural areas and wildlife habitat, protect water quality and fisheries, and expand opportunities for outdoor recreation by purchasing wild and scenic places and protecting them for future generations. The fund is up for renewal in 2008. To date, tens of thousands of acres across the state have been protected from development through this fund, and it has leveraged millions of dollars in additional funding from the private sector.

Doyle has shown steadfast support for the Fund, repeatedly blocking the Republicandominated state legislature from decreasing funding for this program. He would likely support renewal of the program.

Green has not come out publicly for or against renewing the Stewardship Fund, but he led the fight against banning snowmobile access to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks (that ultimately failed) and at the 2006 Republican Party of Wisconsin Convention, a resolution was passed opposing Stewardship Fund land purchases and called for the end of the Stewardship Fund. “Furthermore,” the resolution continues, “the State should be selling land instead of purchasing more land,” which suggests that Green would not support the Stewardship Fund when it is up for renewal in 2008. All indications are that Green would not support the Fund.

The Green Party’s Eisman has and continues to be engaged in the conservation of Wisconsin lands. He served on the planning commission for Dane County, chaired the City of Madison Commission for the Environment, volunteers with the Dane County Adult Conservation Corps, and is active with a local restoration group.

“The Stewardship Fund is absolutely critical,” says Eisman. “We need to protect wildlife habitat where people are not welcome but we also need to look at areas where people can recreate and protect that for future generations.”

Eisman also proposes to restore the Wisconsin Conservation Corps, tie it in to a job training program to train inner-city Milwaukeeans who need jobs to clean up Milwaukee’s rivers, restore vegetative buffers around the rivers, and provide other needed conservation work.

Endangered Species Protection

On September 27, on a straight party-line vote, the Republican majority on the Legislature’s Joint Committee for the Review of Administrative Rules committed to suspend the administrative rule listing the Butlers Garter Snake as a threatened species in Wisconsin. This species of snake only occurs in southeast Wisconsin, which coincidentally has the highest population density and development activity. The Committee has told DNR to come up with easier regulations for development on Butlers Garter Snake habitat by February, in effect saying, “Science be damned,” says Peter McKeever, an environmental attorney in Madison.

This sets a dangerous precedent for other threatened species across the state – and the US. Why do we bother to protect endangered species? Quite simply, diversity is the unit upon which evolution occurs – and if we lose species diversity, it is like an airplane losing its rivets or extra bolts that keep it together, a theory postulated by Shahid Naeem, Professor of Ecology at Columbia University. Eventually, if that last rivet or species is gone, like the wing that could fall off the plane, the ecosystem could collapse, bringing us all down.

While neither Doyle nor Green has stated a position on the issue, numerous actions from Doyle strongly suggest he would do everything in his power to protect environmental regulatory power, including the protection of threatened and endangered species. Doyle has a strong record as Governor for trying to ensure environmental protection funding in the face of repeated attempts by the Republican-dominated state legislature to slash it and block science from informing the process. Past accomplishments include keeping out-of-state waste dumping fees high, chairing the Council of Great Lakes Governors, and signing the Wildlife Violator Compact.

Green proposes to split the DNR in two and create the Department of Conservation, Forestry and Outdoor Recreation, and the Department of Environmental Quality. The Republican candidate believes this will help the DNR, citing “politics” and “a lack of focus” for the DNR’s current problems, yet he does not suggest that the DNR’s budget cuts over the last four years from the State Legislature had any role in the agency’s problems. Green also refers to the DNR “threatening fines on families for their long-standing piers” but does not mention that most piers are exempt from the new regulation, and that the protection of river and lake habitat for fisheries and other aquatic wildlife is the driving force behind the new pier permit process. This suggests a lack of appreciation for the science behind environmental protection, including endangered species.

Nelson Eisman has strong feelings about protecting endangered species. “The Butler’s garter snake is like a canary in a coal mine for southeast Wisconsin. I compliment DNR and SEWRPC on the careful and thorough analysis of Butler’s garter snake habitat use. Developers who want to develop on their habitat are required to have DNR come out and assess what mitigation needs to occur. By preserving the snake, we keep the environment wholesome for ourselves,” he said.

Death Penalty

On November 6, an initiative to persuade state legislators to adopt the death penalty in the next session of Congress will be on the ballot. If they do so, it will be the first time Wisconsin has legalized the death penalty for murder in 153 years.

Governor Jim Doyle opposes the initiative. He has not, however, emphasized his position on it, perhaps because a majority of Americans support it. According to the Associated Press, 54 percent of respondents favor the current initiative, when life without parole is given as an alternative punishment. The poll, recently conducted by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, also indicated that most Milwaukee residents oppose it. Given the considerable support for the death penalty among conservatives, it was likely placed on the ballot to encourage turnout among Republicans’ conservative base, despite the fact that it is not legally binding.

Congressman Mark Green supports the death penalty, especially for “those who kill police officers,” he announced in a June 1 speech given to the Milwaukee Police Association, who have endorsed Green. “Our society has laws, and those laws have consequences.” Green said, “And when you go so far over the line society has drawn, you deserve the ultimate punishment.”

Green candidate Nelson Eisman believes the death penalty would be a backward step for the state. “Wisconsin was the first state in the union in 1853 to legislate specifically against the death penalty. It is alleged that the injections are painful. What does it mean to be a civilized people? We can never be 100% certain that we have all the evidence and conclude that a perpetrator did a crime. There is always doubt,” says Eisman.

No Death Penalty Wisconsin writes on its web site (http://www. nodeathpenaltywi.org) that the United States is one of a small number of democracies that continue to use the death penalty. Most major religious groups, with the exception of the Southern Baptists and other evangelical sects, oppose the death penalty. The Wisconsin Catholic Conference and the Wisconsin Jewish Conference have both stated their opposition to the amendment.

Recently, many questions have been raised about both the effectiveness of the death penalty and its fairness. In 2000, Illinois Governor George Ryan imposed a moratorium on the state’s death penalty. Executions were postponed indefinitely, although the subsequent governor Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, attempted to revoke Ryan’s commutations. Moratoria were also imposed in New Jersey and Maryland, although Maryland’s was later lifted. The New York State Court of Appeals ruled capital punishment in 2004, but no higher court has yet upheld this ruling. Thirty-eight states continue to sanction the death penalty, as do the federal government and military.

Riverwest Currents online edition – November, 2006