Republican legislators and Governor Kim Reynolds were ready to congratulate themselves today for quick passage of a water quality bill they brought to the House floor this morning. After about 45 minutes of debate, the bill passed 59-41, but not before Representative Chip Baltimore delivered a scathing critique of the legislation’s merits and the process that got it there.
“The Senate didn’t really care about water quality in the first place,” Baltimore said in a blistering six-minute speech. “This is indeed a recession in terms of policy. I don’t consider that to be leadership. To be perfectly blunt, the tactics that were used to get us to this point lacked integrity. I’ll be very frank … I can’t stand seeing my name up on that board [for the bill].”
Baltimore has been deeply involved in water quality legislation efforts for years, but today accused Republicans of rushing through a flawed and incomplete bill solely to have a campaign talking point for November.
“Just because the word water quality is in the title, does not make me proud to vote for it so that I can put it on a postcard,” he said.
The House was voting on Senate File 512, which was passed by the Senate last year. It would direct $286 million over the next 12 years to water quality efforts, diverting funds the state already collects from gambling revenue and metered water. Some of those funds are currently used to fund school infrastructure projects. Democrats have harshly criticized the bill for it not implementing a monitoring system to test whether the water quality efforts are actually working, as well as for no focus on watershed projects.
The House passed a similar version of Senate File 512 in the 2016 session, sponsored by Baltimore, but Baltimore has said that was a very inadequate bill that was simply designed to get movement going on the topic. He assailed the lack of progress in discussions between the Senate and House (videospelautomater.com/svenska-casinon/bethard.html), adding that there was supposed to be discussions since the end of the last legislative session to find ways to strengthen the Senate bill. State Representative John Wills, who led today’s push in the House for the Republican bill, insisted that the conversation on water quality would continue. Baltimore was skeptical, to say the least.
“What I heard the last eight months is let’s vote for this senate bill and we’ll keep working on it,” he said. “There is no excuse, none, for not having those worked out … Only in the last week have I heard comments from the Senate that, oh yeah, we’re going to work on some stuff. Well, if it wasn’t a priority for them last year, why in the heck would it be a priority to them now? … I would be literally shocked if a substantive bill comes out of this session in terms of improving Senate File 512 … There’s an organization that doesn’t want that to happen, so I would be shocked if it does.”
It’s a good assumption he was referring to the Farm Bureau at that point.
It has been a tumultuous week for Baltimore, who was stripped of his chairmanship of the House Judiciary Committee following an OWI and weapons charge from Friday. Speaker Linda Upmeyer, who behind the scenes has been at odds with Baltimore in the past on leadership issues, made the change despite other Republican lawmakers not getting demotions for similar arrests. That hasn’t seemed to sit well with Baltimore, and today appeared to be an instance of when a legislator who knows his political future is done for speaks out on what he really thinks, regardless of what consequences with his party that might bring.
“I think it is a failure of leadership and it lacks integrity to go backwards,” Baltimore ended his speech with.
It certainly could throw a wrench into Reynolds and Republicans’ hopes of presenting themselves as champions of water quality. Democrats now have plenty of quotes from a Republican lawmaker deeply involved in water quality efforts publicly saying that the final bill they passed was essentially a sham.
It’s unclear if Baltimore’s defiance might be an indication he’s not interested in running for reelection in 2018 and hopes to go out on a truth-telling spree. If he does intend to run again for his Boone-based seat, it’s unlikely he’ll get much financial support from the Republican leadership that he just called out as lacking integrity.
by Pat Rynard