May 18, 2002 Capital Times (Madison, WI)Gov. Scott McCallum could not make it to Mount Horeb for the hearing where 2,000 area residents discussed how to tackle chronic wasting disease in the state's deer herd. But he did find time to fly to Washington, D.C., and testify before a congressional committee that is examining the issue. Unfortunately, the governor's testimony was so inept that he may actually have set back the state's chances for getting the federal aid and support that is needed to answer a challenge that Wisconsin officials will only be able to meet with outside assistance. McCallum visited Washington to ask for money -- $18 million in aid over the next four years. While that is a ridiculously small sum considering the state's needs, he was at least pointed in the right direction.
Sadly, McCallum knew so little about the issues he was addressing that he immediately embarrassed himself and undermined Wisconsin's prospects for being treated as a serious partner in the fight against chronic wasting disease.
U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., one of the House's most respected experts on environmental and scientific issues, began asking informed and important questions about Wisconsin's handling of the crisis. Inslee expressed concern that McCallum's agriculture secretary had been slow to respond to warnings that animals shipped from Western game farms had been exposed to chronic wasting disease and could expose Wisconsin deer to the disease.
McCallum shot back: "Your information is incorrect." McCallum was, of course, wrong. And Inslee and other committee members knew it. They were in possession of articles and other information detailing the inept and irresponsible approach of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection -- including expressions of concern regarding this precise issue from former state Department of Natural Resources Secretary George Meyer.
In Washington, McCallum came across as a politician trying to grandstand before the next election rather than a serious and informed official ready to work with federal officials on a critical issue. Let's just hope that Rep. David Obey, D-Wausau, and Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, who have taken a lead on matters concerning chronic wasting disease, will be able to undo the damage done by our not-quite-ready-for-prime-time governor.