After posting Dogwhistling away water quality: Miller to hold listening session targeting laws & regulations, we've heard from a reader that all the spots in the governor's Water Summit were filled by the time citizens her lake-spangled county north of here received notice of registration for the summit.
Registration opened on January 14; we registered for it that day when we spotted the Governor's press release* announcing that registration was open via a link in a legislator's email update--though not the update from our own House member. It's possible that he sent one, and we deleted an emailed legislative update from Rep. Miller informing constituents of the need to register.
Whatever the case, we didn't have advance notice of the registration before the general public. UPDATE: Apparently, neither did state legislators; the House member in whose update we saw the link learned about the announcement via twitter. [end update]
Now we read in MSGA President’s Perspective: Setting the Record Straight, a post on the blog kept by the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association:
Last week, Gov. Mark Dayton announced his Water Summit. Registration filled up fairly quickly, but rest assured, the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association will have several directors in attendance. Tuesday, at a pre-summit discussion at the Governor’s mansion, MSGA along with several agriculture groups discussed the upcoming summit. We shared our concerns that registration filled up quickly. There were also concerns that a number of spots were filled before ag groups were informed about the sign-up.
The Governor’s office offered that the Water Summit will focus on 10 areas from urban environments, funding, aquatic invasive species, water quantity, to rural environments, among others. Essentially, the plan is for stakeholders to gather and help build a strategic plan to guide the legislature in the coming years.
MSGA will engage in the Water Summit process with integrity and will keep the best interests of soybean growers in mind every step of the way. If discussions become polarized, we may need to reassess what direction to take. For now the optimism of working with all groups to build consensus warrants full engagement. . . .
We've put a couple of phrases in bold in the passage above.
What strikes us is that citizens active in local lakes associations and the president of a commodity group are both concerned that individuals were not able to register and take part in the discussion that is to "help build a strategic plan to guide the legislature in the coming years."
But we're more struck by the president of an interest group-- a person who was at "a pre-summit discussion at the Governor’s mansion, MSGA along with several agriculture groups discuss[ing] the upcoming summit"--fretting about slots going to people who aren't members of ag groups. Clearly, they weren't handed out to the local lakes associations volunteers.
It's the fact of "pre-summit discussions" at the Governor's residence that's most concerning. The registration process created a scarcity for the ordinary lake dweller or soybean grower--while interest groups have access to the governor's residence.
Perhaps the closing of the state capitol building has illuminated an unpleasant fact about the current condition of our state-level representative republic--or representative democracy if that's your preferred frame. It's not for citizens to contact their state lawmakers about water quality policy; rather it's for interest groups (whether ag, environment, or lake property holders) to get a place in the governor's office or the summit.
Those observers who wonder why Americans are supporting outsiders for President--though Bluestem laughs to think that a pop culture billionaire or a United States senator are "outsiders"--might address their attention to this unfolding dog and pony show.
What might compel a freshman legislator like Tim Miller to see his constituents' opinion as equally deserving of his attention, when the process has become so weighted toward interest groups in these informal events?
Or when the legislature creates statutory boards and councils to advise on policy--and in some cases to direct spending?
However, the management of the water summit is nothing compared to the evolving case of the Pollinators Summit that we wrote about in MN Department of Agriculture Pollinators Summit free & open to the public on Friday, February 12.
Image: the logo for Governor's Water Summit, which you may or may not have heard about in time. Your interests might be safe if you're a member of an ag commodity group. We suppose that environmental and property owner groups have an invite to the governor's residence as well.
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*We're not on the communications' office press release distribution list, a situation that puzzles the dedicated professionals working there each time we ask to be put on as much as it does us. Some things are just mysteries that pass human understanding.