Granberg discusses DNR appointment
Fresh off a whirlwind trip to Washington D.C. this week for President Obama’s inauguration, Kurt Granberg was tired but ready to talk Wednesday evening.
Granberg was appointed as director of the Department of Natural Resources late last Friday afternoon, in a move that surprised even the long-time southern Illinois politician. After nearly a year of waiting for the announcement, Granberg was surprised when a reporter called to tell him he finally had the $133,000 per year DNR job.
But by Wednesday, moments after leaving the airport in St. Louis, Granberg was ready to discuss his new role and his plans for the DNR.
“We’re going to take things in a different direction and I’m going to be an unabashed advocate of the DNR. I’m going to be an aggressive advocate,” said Granberg, whose term is set to run through January of 2011. “From my knowledge of the legislative process I think I can be an asset to DNR. I know how to get things done. Not that many people have the experience I do in terms of bringing different groups together and coming to consensus.”
Granberg, 55, served in the House of Representatives since 1987 and was assistant majority leader under Speaker Michael Madigan. He resigned his seat before the House voted Jan. 9 to impeach Blagojevich. Born June 16, 1953 in Breese, Granberg attended the University of Illinois, where he studied political science and criminal justice. He also attended The Illinois Institute of Technology’s Chicago-Kent College of Law.
Granberg bristled at the idea that his appointment was somehow tainted since it came after Gov. Blagojevich’s impeachment.
“I was supposed to be appointed more than a year ago,” Granberg said. “So I’m not going to address that. There’s too many serious issues to be addressed at DNR. It’s been a tough year for DNR.”
That it has taken this long for Granberg to be named is indeed a surprise, since his pending appointment was the worst-kept secret in Springfield. Granberg even bought a second house in Springfield last summer in preparation for taking over the DNR job. Asked why the appointment took so long, Granberg could only speculate. “I don’t know, I really don’t know,” he said.
Asked why the appointment came now, with Gov. Blagojevich’s status in limbo, Granberg could again only speculate. “I know (acting director) Sam Flood has been having back problems. He’s been wanting to get out badly.”
The timing of Granberg’s appointment has raised questions regarding how long he will remain in the position should Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn take over for Blagojevich. When Kevin McDermott of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch asked Granberg if he had talked to Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn about working for him, Granberg laughed and said, “Pat and I don’t get along.”
On Wednesday, Granberg had changed his tune some. He conceded that he and Quinn have been at odds over the years, dating all the way back to a campaign several years ago involving Quinn and Jim Donnewald, one of Granberg’s former partners in a law firm. But Granberg said he could work with Quinn, should Blagojevich be removed from office, as many expect will happen.
“I think we’ve both matured over the years and hopefully (Quinn) would come in with an open mind and I will come in with an open mind,” Granberg said.
When he starts on the job Thursday afternoon, Granberg said his first priorities will be to set up meetings with various conservation groups to help steer his agenda.
“I’m not an expert, but I’m smart enough to know I’m not an expert,” Granberg said. “I want to solicit input from all partners. That’s my top priority. I want to reach out to those groups.”
Granberg said he has been quail hunting numerous times, but has not gone in the past year since he had a shotgun stolen out of his gun cabinet. The Breese native said he has spent more time fishing in his life. “I grew up fishing in farm ponds for bluegill and bass all the way to fishing on the Kaskaskia River for catfish,” he said. “I’ve never been hawging though. We’ve got people in my district who go hawging and tell me it’s a good time. But I’ve never gone along with them.”
He also has plans to open an Abraham Lincoln Golf Trail in southern Illinois. The trail would be modeled after the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama, which draws visitors for overnight stays as they move from course to course, eating at different restaurants and staying at hotels. In this case, Granberg is pushing for golfers to state in lodges on state parks. “We’re esentially ready to go with this,” Granberg said.
Granberg said he had presented the golf trail plan to the Department of Tourism and to the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, but was unable to make headway with those agencies. That’s interesting, since there are reports that the DNR job was not Granberg’s top choice. According to Kurt Erickson of the Bloomington Pantagraph, “The 55-year-old Carlyle Democrat had hoped to land a job at the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, but got the DNR job instead.”
In regards to reopening closed parks, Granberg said he needs more time to evaluate the situation. “I think we have to go park by park and look at usage, revenue and quality. If a park is not being used very much, that may not be a priority.” Overall, though, he does not favor closing parks, noting that in difficult economic times those public areas become even more important to residents.
Granberg said he is also very aware of problems regarding proposed sweeps of dedicated funds that could jeopardize up to $16 million in federal funding this year. “We can’t afford to jeopardize those federal funds,” he said.
Eventually, Granberg said he would like to visit every state park and natural area and meet with site managers.
Not all observers want Granberg to stay in his position long enough to make those visits. Many have been critical of his lack of a background in natural resources. Granberg is aware of the criticisms, even alluding to the fact that some have called him a “political hack.”
“I understand people are frustrated. People in my district are worried and frustrated. And I don’t blame them,” he said. “But I think they’ll be reassured after I’ve had a chance to talk to them. I think people will see that I can do a good job. I think my reputation is intact in Springfield in both chambers of the House.”
Granberg said one example of his work in regards to natural resources was his stance against clear-cutting of timber next to waterways. “Because I’m concerned about our waterways and the quality of our streams,” he said. Granberg worked with Prairie Rivers in 2000 to help pass House Bill 3093, which made it illegal for landowners to clearcut trees along the state’s largest rivers, also known as public, or navigable, waterways. Granberg said that bill was against the wishes of the Illinois Farm Bureau.