Which you may think odd for a graduate of, yes, Robert M. La Follette High School in Madison. (For some reason, our sports teams were named the Lancers, not the Fighting Bobs.) Voting reforms like direct election of U.S. senators, primary elections and referenda were indeed worthwhile reforms. The ballooning growth of government --- in response to actual problems, it should be noted -- and the reflexive distrust of business and the "rich" (that is, anyone with more money than you) stand as progressivism's less positive contributions to the body politic.
Another feature of the Progressive Era was the concept of "government by expert." To a point, it makes sense to, for instance, have experts in forestry oversee conservation efforts, as Theodore Roosevelt hired. But the executive branch, which manages the government, is not the legislative branch, which is supposed to make policy.
A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel column by outdoors writer Paul A. Smith opines that the environment in Wisconsin is going to hell because of -- the horror! -- politics:
Smith has for a long time advocated for returning control of the Department of Natural Resources to the Natural Resources Board and away from the governor. Gov. Tommy Thompson gave himself (with legislative approval, of course) the authority to name the DNR head in 1995, despite the opposition of Attorney General James Doyle. Gov. James Doyle, however, decided to keep Thompson's appointment ability.
No, we know exactly what we get out of the political process -- democracy, as messy and slow and occasionally disagreeable for your tastes as it is. What we get out of the political process is representation of the voters and taxpayers, some of whom, it may surprise Thomas to know, see, for instance, revitalizing the state's economy as more important than following the whims of the (unelected) Natural Resources Board.
Smith quotes Herb Behnke of Shawano, who was appointed to the first state Natural Resources Board in 1968, but inadvertently identifies as a virtue something that is not:
Legislation by administrative rule is in fact one of the worst features of Wisconsin government. When the Legislature passes a law, like it or not, a majority of the voters are represented, and when the voters decide they are no longer being adequately represented, legislators are involuntarily retired. (See Nov. 2, 2010.) No one in this state has voted for anyone to serve on the Natural Resources Board, and no one in this state who doesn't work for the DNR has ever authorized the hiring of anyone in the DNR. For that matter, no non-legislator has ever approved of the state's spending $86 million per year to take land permanently off the tax rolls in the name of conservation, either.
This is one of those cases that proves the political principle of expediency -- the correct level of government to solve a problem is whatever level of government will solve the problem in your preferred way. I have yet to read an environmentalist suggest electing the Natural Resources Board, or an every-other-year statewide authorization referendum on the Knowles–Nelson Stewardship Fund-financed state land grab.
Smith decries politics in the environment:
In other words, pay up, you ignorant taxpayer, and shut up.
I don't expect an outdoors writer to admit this, but conservation and the environment is one of many, many issues we entrust to our elected officials. It is important -- for one thing, tourism and agriculture are two of the state's biggest industries -- but it is not the most important. It is, for instance, difficult to drive to some part of the 16 percent of land in this state that is owned by a unit of government if you don't have a job. It's hard to spend money on fishing or hunting equipment if you don't have money for outdoors equipment because your state has trailed the nation in per capita income growth for more than three decades.