Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. March 29, 2022.
Editorial: Removal rules protect public, those in office
This week’s resignation of Curtis Schmitt Jr., the former chairman of the state’s veterans policy board and current defendant in a child pornography case, was welcome. It’s difficult to see how Schmitt could have been effective in that position — or virtually any other — while defending himself against such charges.
Schmitt’s departure from the Wisconsin Board of Veterans Affairs was far from a foregone conclusion. Public officials serving in state-appointed positions can be forced out, but the path to doing so isn’t simple. Wisconsin governors can remove such people only after a formal complaint from a member of the public and a public hearing on the matter. If the official in question is inclined to stick things out, the process can take a fair amount of time.
If this sounds familiar in the Chippewa Valley, there’s a reason. This process is the same one that began last year after former District Attorney Gary King came under pressure due to accusations of inappropriate behavior. It’s important to note that the questions about King’s sobriety while working and the lawsuit alleging sexual harassment are fundamentally different from the accusations against Schmitt. There were no criminal charges filed against King, and the harassment claims focus on his behavior toward another adult.
The parallel lies not in the acts, but in the public and political pressure for removal. King did eventually resign. That came after Gov. Tony Evers appointed a commissioner to lead a hearing into the accusations. Such an appointment and hearing were, presumably, the steps that would have followed the formal complaint lodged against Schmitt by Kevin Nicholson, a Republican candidate for governor.
It’s not unreasonable for people to wonder why removal of someone who stands accused of such an odious crime should be so difficult. There’s good reason to be discomfited by the idea of someone who is accused by investigators of possessing child pornography making decisions in the public’s name. Someone in such a position would be unlikely to win such an office, so why should that person hold it?
We understand such revulsion. But there’s also good reason to make it difficult for a public official to be removed. Such steps should never be taken on a whim.
Public officials often, by nature of their jobs, have to make decisions that can step on toes. They have to make decisions based on what is best for their departments, decisions that best serve the people those departments serve. Those aren’t always the same decisions people would prefer they make.
Insulating public officials from temporary or misplaced anger is essential to ensuring they can effectively do those jobs. The need really isn’t all that different from the private sector. We’ve all encountered cases in which a person has complained at a business without justification. Some days it seems half of social media is made up of videos that capture such encounters. Just as employees in a private business should not be subject to removal over an unreasonable objection to their performance, so should those in office be protected from knee-jerk responses.
There’s another important component to Wisconsin’s system. The hearing on the conduct that prompted the potential removal is public. That’s critical. Removal of a public official should not be the kind of step taken after shadowy discussions in a back room. That’s even more the case when, as with the King incident, the figure in question is elected by voters. Overturning a decision made at the ballot box should indeed be difficult.
In cases where the questions about someone’s ability to do the job are valid, there needs to be a process by which those questions can be evaluated. That’s what Wisconsin has in place, and that process had indeed begun with respect to Schmitt’s role at the veterans affairs board. In short, this was the way things are supposed to work.
This is a case where it was reasonable to question whether Schmitt could realistically remain in his position, even with the charges unproven. And Schmitt apparently recognized that, choosing to resign rather than go through the full process that could have led to his removal.
Wisconsin’s system for removing officials is reasonable and serves the public’s interest well. While we hope it is rarely called upon for use, we are glad the protections exist for both the people and those who serve them.
Wisconsin State Journal. March 29, 2022.
Editorial: Good riddance to sandhill crane hunting season — at least for now
Sandhill cranes, beautiful birds that mate for life, return to Wisconsin this month after wintering in Florida. Their summer home might not be safe for much longer.
Hunters want state lawmakers to add sandhill cranes to Wisconsin’s list of game animals. The last time it was open season on sandhill cranes a century ago, humans drove the birds nearly to extinction in the eastern half of the United States. Let’s not make the same mistake again.
Too much hunting and destruction of habitat in the 18th and 19th centuries almost wiped out sandhill cranes. By 1936, only about a dozen breeding pairs were left in Wisconsin. The bird had died off in Iowa, Indiana, Ohio and some other states.
Decades of conservation work followed, and sandhill cranes rebounded. Today, more than 90,000 live east of the Mississippi River in the United States, and nearly half of them are in Wisconsin.
Hunters want a chance to shoot some of these birds for sport and for food. Rock musician and gun rights advocate Ted Nugent called sandhill cranes the “ribeyes in the sky” at the statehouse in Madison last year.
Lawmakers this year considered two companion bills – Senate Bill 620 and Assembly Bill 667 – to create a sandhill crane hunting season managed by the state Department of Natural Resources. Neither passed before the Legislature finished its regular business for the year, which is good. But expect the issue to return.
It’s not just hunters behind the idea. Farmers wouldn’t mind fewer sandhill cranes because the birds eat seedlings, especially corn.
But farmers already have tools to respond. They may kill problem cranes in their fields if they have a permit from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They also can apply nontoxic chemicals to their crops that the cranes find unpalatable.
If Wisconsin did authorize a hunting season, the DNR would set harvest and permit limits to try to secure the overall population of the sandhill crane. Unfortunately, those limits don’t always hold. Hunters sometimes kill more animals than the DNR wants them to.
In 2021, for example, the DNR set a target of 119 wolves during a one-week hunting season. Hunters reported killing 215 in less than three days, and the state had to cut the season short. Overkill of cranes would push the species in the wrong direction.
Nor would the sandhill crane be the only species at risk. Its cousin, the whooping crane, shares its habitat and can be confused for a sandhill in the moment at gun distance. The whooping crane is protected by the federal Endangered Species Act, and only an estimated 80 of these birds survive in the state. Killing even a single whooping crane pushes the species closer to extinction. That’s what happened in December during Oklahoma’s sandhill crane season when hunters shot four whooping cranes.
Hunting is an important tool in managing wildlife populations. It’s also part of Wisconsin’s heritage. Many families have traditions that go back generations of hunting food in a natural way. A successful deer hunt can fill a freezer for the winter.
Those hunters have many animals and seasons to choose from. They can shoot or trap game animals from squirrels to ducks to bears during appropriate seasons. They don’t need another critter, even rib-eyes in the sky, to hunt if it means risking the health of two species — one on the brink of extinction, and one freshly back from it.