Good government and the DNR Secretary debate

I've ignored most of the debate surrounding how the DNR Secretary is appointed. It's not that it isn't important, but rather it's one of those boring, government process stories that isn't exactly going to get constituents all across the state burning up the switchboard at the Capitol.

But here's the thing: The question of who appoints the DNR Secretary - or any cabinet secretary - is extremely important for how government works in Wisconsin.

It's my belief that we have far too many panels and commissions in state government. Too many decisions are made by unelected officials and bureaucrats. We elect a governor to be the chief executive of the state and hold him - or eventually her - responsible for the successes and failures during their time in office. Under the commission system, if something goes wrong at the DNR or the VA - as happened recently with the overspending at one of the VA facilities - the governor will almost certainly be held responsible, but will have played almost no role in appointing the secretary in charge of the department.

Proponents of the commission system will argue that it takes politics out of the equation, but it also takes away any sense of responsibility to the voters. As Bill Kraus points out at FightingBob - and yes I'm actually agreeing with a column posted over there - the commission system can lead to the department being influenced and controlled solely by the special interest groups that are directly affected by it. Kraus also hits on the most important aspect: such a system is anti-democratic. For some reason, very few people want to mention that.

If anyone is concerned with the competency of a governor-appointed DNR secretary, any nominee still needs to be confirmed by the Senate. If the Senate does it's job with hearings and floor debate, this shouldn't be an issue. Again, that's if the Senate does it's job, and one would hope that if they don't they will be replaced.

If we're truly committed to responsive and responsible government then we need to overhaul state government entirely. All cabinet officials should be appointed by the governor and approved by the Senate. Legislative committees should have oversight over the different agencies and their budgets. Cabinet officials should be required to testify or report to those committees in much the same way the federal government works.

If we had a government like that then we the people would have more power over all aspects of government. As Bill Kraus rightly points out:

They and everyone else in favor of non-cabinet government should also be asked, “If this is such a great idea, shouldn’t it be adopted by the federal government as well?”

Unless on second thought it would not have been a good idea for leftover Clinton commissioners and leftover Bush commissioners to be running the Bush and Obama programs until and unless those commissioners were ultimately replaced.

In short. If you don’t like the governor, elect a new one. Don’t hobble the one you have elected.