"Walkergate," "Cronygate," "John Doe": No matter what you call it, it reeks for Walker
I haven't said much about the ongoing John Doe investigation out of Milwaukee County, but I have, like many people, been paying close attention. So far it's been an interesting study of a whole series of seemingly shady deals between Gov. Scott Walker and his various friends/aides and trying to figure out if any of them are connected to a larger corruption scandal, or if there isn't actually that much organization behind it all.
It all goes back to Walker's time as Milwaukee County Executive, especially during his campaign for governor in 2010; heck, technically it goes back to his dirty plays for student office while at Marquette. The John Doe investigation, so-called because the names of those being questioned are kept secret until formal charges are filed, appears to be focused primarily on the gubernatorial campaign period -- but, based on recent events, I'm not so sure it will end there.
Archer followed Walker in his move from Milwaukee to Madison and found herself a cushy job as Deputy Secretary of Administration (DOA) under Secretary Mike Huebsch, where she was apparently instrumental in helping craft the "budget repair bill" that stripped public employees of their collective bargaining rights, among other things. Archer was, until very recently, the rare person who "never had to knock on the governor's office door before she walked in, according to capitol observers. She has been compared to Susan Goodwin, Governor Jim Doyle's chief of staff who played an outsized role in state politics during his time in office."
Suddenly, then, Archer resigned her post at the DOA in August and moved to a position as a legislative liason with the Department of Children and Families. And while it was a $25,000-a-year pay cut, Archer was still making nearly $100,000 at the new job -- almost $40,000 more than the previous person who'd held the post.
Thing is, Archer has yet to actually show up to do her new job. Instead, she's using banked sick leave to take time off, though witnesses who live in her neighborhood have said they've seen her outside doing yard work and generally not looking ill. (Certainly, she could have an illness that's not terribly visible, or, more likely, be using the time to stay out of the public spotlight as much as possible while all of this is going on).
Somewhat ironically, Archer is also ostensibly serving on Walker's "Waste, Fraud and Abuse Commission," a group tasked with cutting $300,000 out of the state budget -- though Archer's inclusion in a group of at least five recent political appointees who were given salaries significantly higher than their previous, civil servant counterparts.
Much of this, I would say, is a direct result of the Walker Administration's new rule -- passed as part of the same "budget repair bill" when Walker claimed Wisconsin was "broke" -- making many formerly civil service positions into political appointments. Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca and other Democrats have since introduced a bill that would restore those jobs to civil-service status.
Whether or not it has any chance of passing the still Republican controlled Legislature remains anyone's guess, though I doubt it. Despite lip service now being paid to bipartisanship and cooperation, I've yet to see any tangible evidence that the majority Republicans have any interest in passing something that would be in direct opposition to the will of their governor.
This despite the fact that clearly there are political appointees who are under-qualified and over-paid for the positions they've been given, causing stress on the various departments and financial waste. Remember Brian Deschane? Remember Valerie Cass?
Call me crazy but I've always thought the best way to run anything -- government or business -- was to have a competitive hiring process where the most well-qualified person for the job got it in the end, regardless of their political affiliation. Frankly, dedication to the good of the state and the task at hand, and not the current person sitting in the governor's office, is why we have the civil service in the first place (and why it's such a noble, yet all-too unappreciated, calling).
Meanwhile, the investigation rolls on -- even without the help of too-partisan-to-care Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen. The Milwaukee County DA's office apparently asked the AG months ago to assist in the investigation into whether or not Walker aides had been doing campaign work on the taxpayer's time (among, potentially, other things) but Van Hollen declined.
This despite the fact that Van Hollen's office has worked closely with the Milwaukee County DA "for the past two and a half years through the Election Integrity Task Force, pursuing all allegations of potential voter impropriety that have netted less than 20 actual instances. Van Hollen not only held press conferences on these issues, but also regularly produced press releases touting his work with the Milwaukee County District Attorney's office, including with the investigator leading the current Walker 'Cronygate' cases."
Non-existent voter fraud? Van Hollen's all over it. Possible widespread corruption in the governor's office? Won't touch it. Now explain that one to me.
I expect much more to come of this in the coming weeks and months, and I can only hope that the truth will out. As it stands, none of it looks particularly good for the Walker Administration, which has done nothing yet to dispel its image of being crony central.
For a full run-down of the various elements of this unfolding investigation and potential scandal, see Chris Liebenthal's excellent primer.
Remember the proposed iron ore mine up in Iron and Ashland counties? Remember how the mining companies wanted to ram through legislation to unravel environmental and community oversight rules? Public outcry saw all of that put on hold this summer, but the bill is back, and opposition seems to be stronger than ever. Most recently, as reported by the AP: "The Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa's tribal council held a 90-minute news conference before meeting with the governor and his aides behind closed doors at the state Capitol, telling reporters the mine presents an imminent threat to their air and water quality."
Meanwhile, Rep. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) really dislikes Madison law enforcement. He's been the prime whiner in terms of legislation that would reimburse various law enforcement agencies for time spent at the capitol during protests earlier this year. Nass claims that the MPD, Capitol Police and Dane County Sheriff were all in cahoots to let the protesters do as they pleased and left legislators vulnerable to their scary, unwashed masses (even though there was no violence, and police spent much of their time watching over Republican legislators). Now Nass would like to see Capitol Police Chief Charles Tubbs, one of the most even-handed and cool-headed cops I've ever seen in action, face a review and possible removal from office. Classy.