By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — An obscure Wisconsin board voted to lift a ban on its employees working on climate change during state time that was put in place by Republicans to target the daughter of Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, who was the board’s executive director.
The state Board of Commissioners of Public Lands instituted the ban in 2015, driven by concerns from two Republican office holders. Newly elected Democrats who replaced them on the board last month joined with Democratic Secretary of State Doug La Follette on Monday in unanimously reversing the ban.
Not taking climate change into consideration is “completely reckless,” said board chairwoman and state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski on Friday. She, La Follette and Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul voted to overturn the ban that covered work done by the board’s nine employees.
The board provides money from a $1.2 billion endowment fund for school libraries and makes loans to municipalities and school districts. It also manages 77,000 acres of timber land.
Godlewski said the climate change ban was making it hard for them to make sound decisions about state lands. Removing it is about fulfilling a responsibility to manage state assets properly, Godlewski said.
The ban was put in place when the board’s executive director was Tia Nelson, the daughter of the late Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. senator from Wisconsin who founded Earth Day. Tia Nelson left the job three months after the ban was enacted.
Republicans on the board who voted for the ban in 2015 were then-Attorney General Brad Schimel and Treasurer Matt Adamcyzk. Josh Kaul defeated Schimel and Adamcyzk ran for the state Assembly rather than seek re-election as treasurer. He was defeated.
Adamcyzk proposed the ban, saying at the time he was upset that Nelson worked on global warming issues on board time. She was co-chair of a global warming task force created by then-Gov. Jim Doyle in 2007 and said in 2015 that she had done no work on the issue since that group disbanded in 2008.
Adamcyzk said in defense of the ban that global warming had nothing to do with the board’s mission.
Last year, investment income provided $35.7 million to school libraries across Wisconsin. The board also loans municipalities and school districts money for public purpose projects. In addition to repealing the global warming ban, the board also voted to accept applications from school districts looking to finance energy efficiency projects.
The move comes as Godlewski has been trying to raise the profile of the treasurer’s office, which had its duties severely curtailed in recent years by the Republican-controlled Legislature. Voters last year rejected a constitutional amendment to eliminate the office, something Godlewski campaigned against before she decided to run for the office. Serving as one of three members of the public lands board is the treasurer’s only remaining constitutional duty.