Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has appointed an attorney with conservative political credentials but no experience working within the state Department of Natural Resources as the agency’s new chief legal counsel.
Walker’s spokesman wouldn’t discuss the governor’s appointment of Jake Curtis, but Curtis’ last employer described him as a skilled lawyer who has been a key adviser in partisan election campaigns. And he has advocated for relaxed pollution rules.
Curtis will be the first DNR legal counsel without a strong grounding in the areas of law that underlie department regulations on fish and wildlife, forestry and environmental quality, said George Meyer, a former department secretary and lawyer who now directs the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation.
“He does not have good background in all those areas,” Meyer said. “His major experience had been a philosophical, political bent on legislative matters. You are going to tend to get a lot more political decisions.”
In 2011, the DNR’s legal counsel post was among the positions Walker and the Republican-controlled Legislature changed from civil service jobs to political appointees. Meyer said it extended the political control gained by Wisconsin governors under a 1995 law that took hiring of the DNR secretary away from the Natural Resources Board.
Curtis has served as a Wisconsin adviser to Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz and was an aide to a GOP state legislator.
He excelled in his last job working for the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty’s Center for Competitive Federalism and may bring a fresh viewpoint to the DNR, said WILL president Rick Esenberg.
“He also is sort of astute and mature and has enough judgment to know how to come in from the outside and manage to change directions without causing the type of consternation that could get in the way of doing that,” Esenberg said.
Under Walker, DNR enforcement actions have decreased, but businesses have continued to express frustration.
WMC general counsel Lucas Vebber said Curtis was very capable.
“We look forward to continuing to work with the professionals at DNR to ensure compliance with all regulations while growing our state’s economy,” Vebber said.
Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters executive director Kerry Schumann said Walker’s appointment of Curtis…