The Assembly fell six votes short this afternoon of the two-thirds majority needed to override the governor's veto of legislation to restore the Natural Resources Board's power to appoint the agency secretary.
The body voted 58-38 to override the veto with 10 Republicans and independent Jeff Wood joining majority Dems in supporting the override, while three Dems voted to sustain the guv's veto.
With one member not voting and two paired, backers needed 64 votes to override the veto and send the issue to the Senate for a final vote.
During the debate, the two sides clashed on whether changing who appoints the secretary would take politics out of the decisions the DNR makes and if the change would be in the best interests of the state's hunters, anglers and businesses.
The original Assembly bill called for the DNR Board to appoint the secretary to a four-year term after it lost that power in the 1995 budget. That bill was approved 61-32, but the state Senate amended the bill to add a provision requiring its confirmation of a board appointment. That Assembly signed off on the amended bill 49-44.
State Rep. Fred Clark, a former DNR forester, said there exists a glass ceiling in the agency for longtime employees because jobs within the secretary's office and those as division administrators have been carved out for political appointees.
He said that system prevents the best in the agency from making the key decisions.
"It also means more and more of the decisions that should be bottom up decisions, that should be made by rank-and-file employees based on the statutes and rules that we provide, instead get made from the top down," said Clark, D-Baraboo.
But Republicans mocked the idea that the change would take politics out of DNR decisions, especially considering a provision the Senate added to the original bill to give itself confirmation power over the board's appointment.
Rep. Mike Huebsch, R-West Salem, pointed out the Senate president would assign a DNR appointment to a committee, which would then mull it over before Senate Org decided whether to even allow it to the floor for a vote. At that point, all 33 members of the Senate would be allowed to weigh in on the appointment.
"You have taken the politics supposedly of one individual and increased it 33 times," Huebsch said. "To suggest it is not political and that amendment is inconsequential is absolutely false."
Gov. Jim Doyle said in a statement after the vote that having an appointed secretary has allowed the state over the past seven years to make "the most significant environmental achievements in a generation."
"We have also taken the most effective steps to streamline regulations, while maintaining the highest environmental standards," Doyle said.