Cathy Stepp, a former Republican state senator and outspoken critic of the state Department of Natural Resources, has been named to head the agency by Gov.-elect Scott Walker.
Stepp's appointment immediately drew stinging criticism from Democrats and environmentalists.
"Putting Cathy Stepp in charge of the DNR is like putting Lindsay Lohan in charge of a rehab center," said Brett Hulsey, an incoming Democratic state representative from Madison.
Stepp, a Yorkville resident, is a former member of the state Natural Resources Board. She also served as state senator from 2002 to 2006. She retired from the Senate in 2006 to help run the family's building business in Racine.
Joining Stepp at the DNR as deputy secretary will be Matt Moroney, an attorney and former executive director of the Metropolitan Builders of Greater Milwaukee. State Rep. Scott Gunderson, R-Waterford, was named executive assistant.
In an interview with the Wisconsin State Journal Thursday morning, Walker said he chose Stepp to lead the natural resource agency because her experience as both a business owner and a former member of the Natural Resources Board will allow her to balance environmental protection with economic development.
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"I wanted someone with a chamber-of-commerce mentality," Walker said.
A longtime critic of the agency she will now oversee, Stepp served on a legislative committee that toured the state seeking comment and criticism about the DNR. And in a post on a conservative blog last year, Stepp said the people who work at the DNR tend to be "anti-development, anti-transportation, and pro-garter snakes, karner blue butterflies, etc." In the same post, she called agency employees "unelected bureaucrats" who tend to "come up with some pretty outrageous stuff that those of us in the real world have to contend with."
Stepp said Thursday that her past criticisms of the agency should not affect morale at the agency.
"I think it is going to be helpful," Stepp said. "Everybody who works in any big agency or business knows there can be improvements."
Stepp called her first meeting with DNR employees Thursday morning "incredibly warm and welcoming." She said she emphasized that she will have a relaxed management style and an open-door policy. As for changes at the agency, she said she will emphasize streamlining environmental permits and encourage a focus on customer service.
Stepp also has strong ties to Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state's most powerful business lobby. When she was in the Senate, her chief of staff was Scott Manley, now the environmental policy director for WMC.
Ron Seely is a reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.