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Monday, March 2, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 26.0° F  Overcast
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Scott Walker's contempt for constituents
Secret emails reveal him violating the public trust

We all knew that Gov. Scott Walker does not hold teachers or other public employees in high regard. We knew it when he slashed public employees' collective bargaining rights, as well as their pay and benefits.

And we had an inkling that he didn't care much about funding for public services. Take his historic cut to our state's once-great public school system, or his cuts in state aid to local governments that have left cities and towns struggling to fix potholes and provide other basic services.

But now, with the release of thousands of pages of secret emails from Walker's time as Milwaukee County executive, we get a full picture of the contempt Walker and his "inner circle" had for the people they were hired to serve.

The now-public emails collected in the John Doe investigation of Walker's administration during his Milwaukee County days show how he and his team hijacked a local government, turned it into a campaign operation, and transformed what were once public-service jobs into vehicles for advancing his political career.

"Consider yourself now in the 'inner circle,'" Cynthia Archer wrote to fellow Walker aide Kelly Rindfleisch when she got her own private email address. "I use this private account to communicate quite a bit with SKW [Scott Kevin Walker] and [his chief of staff Thomas] Nardelli. You should be sure you check it throughout the day."

The blurred lines between campaign work and county work were a bigger problem than just clocking in and out. Walker put political hacks in charge of critical services in Milwaukee County. Tim Russell, Walker's right-hand man for his political campaigns -- now in prison for stealing money from a veterans group -- became the head of Milwaukee County's housing authority.

These same Walker loyalists, when they weren't involved in illegally coordinating political work on a secret email network, took the time to mock constituents who depended on them for services.

Here is a joke Rindfleisch, Walker's deputy chief of staff, received in an email:

"This morning I went to sign my Dogs up for welfare. At first the lady said, 'Dogs are not eligible to draw welfare.' So I explained to her that my Dogs are mixed in color, unemployed, lazy, can't speak English and have no frigging clue who their Daddys are. They expect me to feed them, provide them with housing and medical care, and feel guilty because they are dogs. So she looked in her policy book to see what it takes to qualify. My Dogs get their first checks Friday."

"This is so true!" Rindfleisch responded.

And it wasn't just racist jokes. The policy of neglect, stonewalling and sanctioning the abuse of constituents became the standard operating procedure in Walker's politicized county government.

When news broke about a rash of sexual assaults at the county mental health facility, Rindfleisch wrote flippantly about problems with bad press about "our looney bin."

Walker himself drafted talking points that suggested minimizing the problem and defending the policy of housing males and females together.

"We need to continue to keep me out of the story," he added.

After mental patient Cynthia Anczak starved to death at the same facility, Walker's staff discussed slowing down settlement talks with the woman's elderly parents in order to keep the story out of the press until after the 2010 gubernatorial election.

"Keep it buried until Nov. 2nd and then hopefully they settle," wrote the campaign's Keith Gilkes to Rindfleisch.

R.J. Johnson, Walker's chief political strategist, who is on the email chain with Rindfleisch and other nonpolitical staff, wrote a sarcastic note suggesting that Anczak's parents were raising the issue in order to hurt Walker's campaign.

"Totally coincidental to the election," he said.

Rindfleisch reassured the "inner circle" that it was all okay because "No one cares about crazy people."

If you want a clear portrait of the difference between good-government types who go into public service to help people and the cynical, self-dealing political operation that couldn't care less about a community, take a look at the Walker emails. Take a look at the people Walker put in charge of caring for Milwaukee County's poor, mentally ill, veterans and disabled people.

Is this really the face the Republicans want to put on their candidate for president of the United States?

Conducting politics on taxpayer time may sound like a dry charge. But the nasty emails that came out of the "inner circle" email network show why we should care. These people didn't just violate the public trust, they spit on it.

"It's not public," Rindfleisch wrote of those poor Anczak parents after they contacted the county about their daughter's death.

"Then we should not make it public," Walker replied.

Those turn out to be the watchwords of his time in public life.

Ruth Conniff is the editor of The Progressive.

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