Ag, tribes noticeably missing from State of the State

It’s a new year with a new governor, and Tony Evers laid out his agenda for Wisconsin in his State of the State address Tuesday night. It was an interesting speech, albeit incomplete.

Evers noted that we were once a state known for innovative technology, but now our ability to even generate start-ups and small businesses is behind the times.

He pointed out the need for more education funding, getting back to the point where the state is providing two-thirds of the money for the schools, and local districts pick up the rest. Hopefully, it would cut down on the need for school districts to ask voters for budget overrides and referenda for basic needs like computers for students.

Evers is proposing a five-fold increase in mental health programs for K-12 students, and he wants to make sure everybody has access to quality and affordable health care. He even introduced someone in the audience who benefitted from the federal Affordable Care Act.

The new governor wants transportation funding to be a priority, announcing a bipartisan task force to find a solution to our broken roads and crumbling bridges. On the bright side, he didn’t announce some new tax or increase on the existing gas tax to pave paradise.

Evers even took the time to declare 2019 as the Year of Clean Drinking Water. He plans to sign an executive order for the Department of Health Services to look at securing federal funding to address Wisconsin’s subpar well water.

There were a lot of good points in Evers’ speech, but I’m more concerned with what wasn’t addressed. In his entire address, there was an absence of anything related to agriculture, not one word on the food we eat and the milk we drink.

Wisconsin has many farmers in crisis, mostly due to federal negligence. Farmers were impacted by federal trade tariffs last year, and just as the deadline was due to apply for federal relief, the government shut down.

There are other shutdown effects on farmers. An article in Foodtank pointed out that the U.S. Department of Agriculture inadequately inspected 6,400 meat plants in 2018 due to being understaffed, and that was before the shutdown. For weeks, many department employees have been furloughed, which means inspections have been cut back.

Farm Service Agencies, which fall under USDA, were closed down as a result of the shutdown, but now most have been reopened, albeit with staffers not being paid. The USDA also cut access to government data on crop and livestock prices and yields, according to the Foodtank story, and now farmers are unsure of how to plan for 2019.

It’s obvious the federal government will not swoop in to save the day anytimes soon, so what will the state do to break down barriers farmers face as they try to prosper? I don’t know the answer, because Evers did not address agriculture in the State of the State.

Evers mentioned clean water, but did he mention what needs to be done to address clean water in rural areas? Where does the governor stand on manure and other chemicals seeping into the ground and tainting the water? These are questions that are very important to us country folk, but Evers’ speech seemed to ignore the fact that much of the land north of Madison consists of farms, which produce food for the state and beyond.

The governor also opted not to say anything on our Native American tribes. Many of the tribes have described their relationships with the state to be important, but Evers’ address makes it seem like they don’t even exist in Wisconsin.

The Menominee Tribe has expressed an interest in renewing its efforts to build a casino in Kenosha, in the hopes that Evers will be more receptive than Scott Walker was. How do they know for sure, though? Evers gave no indication in his State of the State address on how the tribes are doing and what he will do to make sure they move forward as well or even better than the rest of the state.

Evers mentioned the importance of closing achievement gaps in schools, which is one way Native American tribes could benefit. No school would benefit better from that than Menominee Indian High School, home to the 2018 Teacher of the Year for secondary schools but also labeled as an underachieving school by the Department of Public Instruction, which Evers headed until this month.

Evers addressed the roads leading to our farms and reservations. He took into account the pitiful internet service to those areas, and he added a little hype to the vow of cleaning up the drinking water that everyone needs. Ignoring two vital resources — our farmers and our Native Americans — shows that Evers still has some work ahead of him before he can become an effective governor. Let’s hope Evers discovers these not-so-hidden gems and starts making plans to benefit these folks, as well.

Lee Pulaski is the city editor for The Shawano Leader. Readers can contact him at lpulaski@newmedia-wi.com