After spending much of the fall explaining why he pleaded guilty to a disorderly conduct charge, Wisconsin Rep. Brett Hulsey (D-Madison) appears to be in the middle of more turmoil.
His full-time legislative aide took vacation and is being reassigned to another job following an incident where she felt threatened by Hulsey's plan to use a box cutter to show her how to defend herself.
Emails obtained by Isthmus through open records requests also indicate that Hulsey wanted to bring a gun into the Assembly chambers during floor debate in January without a concealed carry permit.
Hulsey's aide, Terri Zimmerman, said in a Feb. 11 memo to Mitch Steingraeber of the state Capitol police that "Officer Scott Merdler assisted me with preventing Brett from doing so and continued to monitor the situation."
Hulsey says in an interview that he did ask Capitol police whether he could bring a gun to the Capitol but followed instructions when told not to do so.
Zimmerman, who declined to be interviewed for this article, wrote in her Feb. 11 email to Steingraeber that she met with Assembly minority leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) on Feb. 1. Melanie Conklin, spokeswoman for Barca, says such meetings are "not unusual if there are situations or concerns raised by staff or members."
Conklin also says that Barca discussed Zimmerman's concerns about Hulsey with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R- Rochester) "as would be the case with any member or staff issue that relates to the operation of the body."
Department of Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch also contacted Barca about the situation, Conklin says.
In her memo to Steingraeber, Zimmerman wrote that Hulsey instructed her on Feb. 1 to call Capitol Police Chief David Erwin to reserve a training room with mats in the Capitol police area because he and Patrick Fuller, Assembly chief clerk, were going to train her in self-defense. "I repeatedly told Rep. Hulsey that I was not doing any self-defense training, he and Fuller could do that, but I was not." Zimmerman says Hulsey insisted she reserve the room anyway.
Zimmerman says she called Erwin, who did not return the call, and later, at Hulsey's insistence, called Fuller, who also did not return her call.
Zimmerman says she heard that afternoon from an aide to Barca that Hulsey had a box cutter with him and was planning to use it to show her how to defend herself. According to Zimmerman, a Capitol police officer showed up at the office and spoke with Hulsey behind closed doors. Zimmerman writes that she later learned from Capitol police that the officer took the box cutter from Hulsey at that time.
Zimmerman writes that she asked Hulsey on February 5 "why he wanted to harm me with a box cutter. Brett stated that he had a bad week."
Hulsey, according to Zimmerman, noted at the time that Huebsch "can't touch him or remove his staff because he (Brett) was a federal whistleblower. He was protected -- and he was going to take Huebsch out."
Zimmerman says she then left the building and hasn't been back.
Hulsey says he told Zimmerman at the time that her safety was his "primary concern." He says he wanted to have a "real training event," noting he has six years of karate and judo training.
And he says he has filed a whistleblower complaint against Walker and Huebsch for taking BadgerCare away from 21,000 people.
"They should not be harassing whistleblowers," says Hulsey.
Steingraeber noted in a Feb. 17 report that he had been asked to speak with Zimmerman regarding Hulsey's "emotional/mental state of mind and or condition" but that she had emailed a statement instead. Steingraeber also wrote that he knew Zimmerman was having concerns with Hulsey's "strange behaviors" from a casual contact they had in January in the Capitol Rotunda.
Based on Zimmerman's written statement, Steingraeber wrote in his report that "a very detailed follow-up is warranted."
Department of Administration spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis did not immediately respond to clarify whether Hulsey was the subject of an investigation by Capitol police.
Hulsey acknowledges that he brought a box cutter to the Capitol. He says he believes his office needed "self-defense training" and an "office safety plan."
"We've had people come in the office with a box cutter looking for me," says Hulsey, noting that this happened nearly two years ago and involved a protester who, he was told by Capitol police, had gone "off his meds."
He also noted that Erwin himself had suggested Capitol staffers get self-defense training to protect themselves against Capitol protesters. But Hulsey declined to provide further details about Zimmerman.
"I've hired a new staff person and moved on," he says. "I have nothing more to say."
Matt Veldran, a Dane County board supervisor who lives in Hulsey's district, is working full-time as a limited-term employee.
Hulsey says he looked into bringing a gun to the Capitol because he wants to draw attention to Assembly rules that allow lawmakers to carry hidden guns on the floor. He noted that Rep. Bill Kramer (R-Waukesha), the speaker pro tem of the Assembly, carries a hidden Glock 26 onto the floor, as was reported in February 2012 by the Associated Press.
Republicans last year voted to allow lawmakers to carry hidden guns in the Assembly gallery, but banned them in the Senate.
"I do think we Democrats need to deal with how we're outnumbered and outgunned on the Assembly floor," Hulsey says.
Hulsey says there are about five Republicans who have concealed carry permits.
Since joining the legislature in 2011, Hulsey has had a run of negative publicity. His colleagues groused about his frequent grandstanding during the 2011 Capitol protests and were also not happy when, just after Gov. Scott Walker gave a February 2011 press conference to explain his telephone call with a prankster, Hulsey jumped up on the podium to hold a press conference of his own.
And this summer he pled no contest to charges that he flipped a 9-year-old boy off his inner tube while both were swimming on July 4 at Spring Harbor Beach.
One Democratic lawmaker, who asked to remain anonymous, praises Hulsey for working hard and being a passionate advocate for causes. But his troubles have taken a toll on his credibility, she says. "He has diminished his ability to work with his colleagues around here."