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Wednesday, March 4, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 16.0° F  A Few Clouds
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Scott Walker's ruthless ambition
We're learning just how far he'll go to advance his political career

Never mind CPAC. Campaign coordination got Scott Walker where he is today.

Walker tied for fifth place in the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) straw poll last weekend, which was a bit of a comedown after pundits named him Flavor of the Month among the lineup of prospective Republican presidential candidates for 2016 following Chris Christie's fall from grace. But our governor still got a shout-out from Reince Priebus and Grover Norquist for his union-busting here in Wisconsin.

And let's face it, unless Rand Paul turns out to be an unlikely exception, CPAC has never picked a winner.

Staying away from CPAC kept Walker from having to dodge any more pointed questions from the national media about why he ran a secret email network in his office when he was Milwaukee county exec. And who needs CPAC anyway, when you're already the favorite of right-wing billionaires.

Politically, Walker has set himself up well. You have to hand it to him -- he's good at what he does. And what he does is advance his own political career.

What he doesn't do is create 250,000 jobs.

Nor does he pull our state out of the economic doldrums, where we continue to lag the rest of the country and our region.

He doesn't lay the groundwork for a better future, either. A recent headline in the Wisconsin State Journal sums up a significant part of Walker's legacy: "Outlook Bleak for Rural Schools."

By slashing the state's education budget in half while expanding privatization schemes that divert even more money from public schools, Walker is taking an ax to Wisconsin's future.

But none of this should come as a surprise if you read Walker's emails from his Milwaukee county executive days.

He and his team of political hacks took over county government and turned it into a campaign operation. They mocked the constituents they were there to serve -- including the unfortunate inmates who were raped and one who starved to death on their watch in the Milwaukee County mental health complex -- all while using their secret "inner circle" email network to do the business they cared about: the business of advancing Walker's career.

As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel noted in a March 4 article on the ways Walker blurred the lines between his campaign and county government, Walker himself used his campaign email during work hours to write talking points for state Sen. Alberta Darling. The idea was to help deflect criticism of his handling of the crisis at the mental health facility.

"I think her statement should be short and to the point (something like this): 'This news conference is a political stunt that ignores the facts,'" Walker wrote. "Assuming we are in agreement, we need to find a personal email for someone on her staff to get this language (or read it to them over the phone). It should NOT be emailed to her official account."

Within 30 minutes, Darling had sent out the statement using Walker's talking points.

And now, thanks to the CPAC conference, we learn that all of this campaign coordination went way beyond the county executive's office. It was part of a grand plan supported by right-wing interest groups for years before Walker became governor.

Last Saturday morning during the CPAC conference, Priebus gave a joyful account of the network that made Walker's union-busting triumph possible:

"'How did we do it in Wisconsin?' RNC Chair Reince Priebus asked," wrote Josh Eidelson of Salon. "The simplest way I can tell you is we had total and complete unity between the state party, quite frankly, Americans for Prosperity, the Tea Party groups, the Grandsons of Liberty. The [Glenn Beck-instigated] 9/12ers were involved."

Funny, that kind of coordination is the subject of an ongoing investigation of wrongdoing by Republican campaign groups during the recall. But what are a few stray election laws when you are a national right-wing hero?

"Wisconsin," Grover Norquist told the CPAC crowd, "is the model."

The same Salon article notes that Luke Hilgemann of Americans for Prosperity, "who formerly led the Koch-backed group's Wisconsin efforts," explained that Act 10 and the Wisconsin model for breaking unions "started back in 2007 on the shores of Lake Michigan." That's where Hilgemann and a group of 15 other right-wing activists met with then-County Executive Walker.

Norquist bragged that Walker gave him the pen he used to sign the union-busting budget "repair" bill.

All that bragging at CPAC about being involved in Wisconsin sheds a different light on what Walker has been up to.

As James Rowen noted in his blog The Political Environment: "I didn't grasp how deep the coordination had been for perhaps five years."

So far, it has all worked out as planned for Walker. Not so much for the lower-level staffers who ended up with convictions for doing all that secret campaign work.

Walker has done well for himself. And he has left a lot of bodies littering the stairs behind him. Never mind firing up the base at CPAC. The governor has a more important ingredient for national political success: pure, ruthless ambition.

Ruth Conniff is the editor of The Progressive.

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