State Views: Legislators and lobbyists shut out public testimony on sand mining
Having witnessed last Thursday's public hearing on the sand mining bill, I fail to see why lawmakers are allowed to get away with calling them public hearings. The last thing they do is hear the public.
Legislators talked first. And they talked and talked and talked, as if rehearsing for some future filibuster. Then it was the industry lobbyists' turn. And they droned on and on interminably, while citizens who had traveled for hours to attend the hearing were made to sit and wait.
I talked to people who woke up as early as 4 or 4:30 a.m. to drive into town to catch a bus and ride for three hours or more to arrive in time for the start of the hearing at 9:30. They had stories to tell. They wanted to share their concerns and fears about the effects of sand mining on their own health, as well as its impact on the natural landscape and their property values. They wanted to have their say about traffic congestion and damage to their local roads.
They are understandably unsettled by companies blasting with dynamite in their homeland. They are understandably outraged by a state power grab that strips them and their local communities of any ability to control their own fate and gives sand miners a green light to pretty much do as they please.
They waited for hours, forced to listen to the legislators and lobbyists. Some of them never heard their names called. It was never their turn to speak. They had to get back on the bus for the long ride home without testifying. They submitted written comments to the committee, something they could have done from home without getting up at 4 in the morning to make the trip to Madison.
The politicians and lobbyists who scratch backs and make deals in the state Capitol most every day seemed utterly oblivious to how rudely and disrespectfully these citizens were being treated. By any measure of human decency, no one could be blamed for concluding that mining committee Chairman Tom Tiffany was denied instruction in the basic social graces as a child. But this hearing was no different than any other held these days. Offensive as it was, this was standard operating procedure.
Watching such a disgraceful spectacle makes you angry enough to chew up nails and spit 'em out like bullets. One can only hope that all the people who traveled so far only to be treated so shabbily will find ways to exact proper revenge on these godforsaken politicians.
Mike McCabe is director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a nonpartisan watchdog group that specializes in tracking the money in state politics and works for clean, open and honest government. Email McCabe at firstname.lastname@example.org.