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Romney would gag public servants, imperil environment


Mitt Romney has re-invented and re-defined himself so many times that it seems difficult to pin down just what his presidency would look like. But the public servants who worked for him during his tenure as governor of Massachusetts have no doubt about the nightmare he would bring to Washington.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national organization that helps federal and state public employees to be “anonymous activists” by acting as whistleblowers on their public employers.

During nearly a decade as an environment reporter for KPLU public radio, I came to respect and rely on PEER’s efforts. I counted on their investigations and found that they never tried to mislead the public. Unlike politicians, they have a track record of speaking the truth.

Based on the experience of their members who worked under Governor Romney, they paint a bleak picture of what public servants — especially those involved in protecting the environment — would face under President Romney.

PEER’s New England director and former EPA enforcement attorney Kyla Bennett minces few words: “As Governor, the Romney management style was paranoid, preclusive and hyper-political. His governance approach more closely resembled a bunker than a boardroom.”

A PEER news release issued earlier this month previews the bleak future public employees can look forward to if the presumptive GOP nominee moves into the White House in January.

Consider his Massachusetts track record:

► In one of his very first acts, issued a gag order forbidding employees to “have contact with a member of the State Legislature” or “speak with” any member of the media.  Violations were subject to “disciplinary action;”

► Eliminated the ability of citizens and businesses, as well as environmental organizations, to obtain independent review of the legality of Department of Environmental Protection decisions.  In January 2004, he abolished the cadre of administrative law judges tasked with hearing citizen appeals.  Instead, all such appeals were reviewed by his political appointees; and

► Unsuccessfully tried to strip 800 attorneys of civil service status, so that they could be fired without cause.  In so doing, he would have terminated all attorney slots for environmental enforcement. All remaining lawyers were to be moved inside the Governor’s office.

It says something about the political paranoia of Romney that his first act as governor was to forbid public employees from talking to journalists or to legislators. That was the most important problem facing his state? Of course not.

Public employees who work in environmental protection are the human firewall that protects the natural world from those who would destroy it in the name of profits. In the Pacific Northwest they protect Puget Sound’s endangered Orcas, enforce laws and rules that protect our dwindling wild salmon runs, regulate the use of pesticides and herbicides that can poison people and animals.

A Romney presidency clearly would take direct aim at these workers. It’s an issue that should enrage and worry every trade unionist — has there been a clearer example of the principle “an injury to one is an injury to all”? — and terrify every person who lives here.

Those who enforce environmental laws and regulations already face opponents who are better funded and are highly motivated by greed. They deserve better than an employer who plays for the “other side.”

Our colleagues in PEER are sounding a warning that labor needs to heed.

A Romney presidency would be bad news for our natural world and for every working family.

Steve Krueger is a retired broadcast and print journalist, and served nine years as president of the Seattle local of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, now SAG-AFTRA.

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