Saturday, February 19, 2011

Steve Lund: A ‘yes man’ in every key job

by Steve Lund - Kenosha News

If everyone wasn’t already up in arms about Gov. Scott Walker’s legislative proposals, they might be talking about how many of his actions are too sleazy for Wisconsin’s good-government tradition.

Sleazy move No.1:

He appointed Steve Fitzgerald, 68, father of Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, to a nice job as head of the State Patrol. Technically, the appointment was made by Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb, but Gottlieb is also a Walker appointee.

It’s good that the appointee, a former county sheriff and former U.S. Marshal, is well qualified for the job, but there are probably quite a few people who could fill the position. This appointment to a job paying $105,700 annually adds cement to the bond between the governor and the Fitzgerald brothers who lead the state Legislature.

The governor has little or no control over whom other legislators elect to the leadership positions in the Assembly and Senate, but he did have an effect on the Republicans becoming the majority party in both the chambers. Walker helped to lead a Republican sweep in November, and he helped the Fitzgerald brothers vault from being minority leaders to majority leaders. It’s a huge difference in terms of influence.

They’ve shown their appreciation by rushing almost all of the governor’s proposals through a special session of the Legislature.

With their father’s appointment to head the State Patrol, they have even more reason to show their appreciation to the governor.

Sleazy move No. 2

: Walker proposed taking collective bargaining rights away from public employees, except police officers and firefighters.

Why, if the issue is fixing the state budget, should police and firefighters be exempt? One answer is that some, if not all, police and firefighters unions supported Walker in the campaign. A better answer is that police to some extent and firefighters to a greater extent are popular.

Walker may be correct that most private-sector workers are resentful of the pension and health benefits state workers and teachers have. That doesn’t mean the public thinks the right to bargain collectively about those things should be taken away. Walker could negotiate the changes in benefits without rewriting state labor law.

But even if the voting public resents the better health insurance and pensions that public sector workers have, they like police service and they treat firefighters like heroes. The Legislature might think twice about changing the bargaining rules for cops and firefighters.

Wednesday afternoon it began to look like the Legislature was having second thoughts anyway and would propose “substantive” amendments. That was a big change from Tuesday, when legislative leaders announced they had the votes to pass Walker’s proposal before any testimony was heard at the public hearing.

Sleazy move No. 3:

Gov. Walker wants to fill more jobs with political appointees. Former Gov. Jim Doyle fought (with his own party) to keep the secretary of the Department of Natural Resources a political appointee, but Gov. Walker also wants public information officers and the lawyers for state agencies to be political appointees. This has nothing to do with fixing the budget, but it’s part of the budget repair bill.

The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters’ newsletter had this to say about the political appointees: “The citizens of Wisconsin have the right to expect that the spokespeople who provide information to the public and the state’s lawyers who administer justice are doing their jobs in the interest of the citizens of the state. Government employees should not have to be worried that they could be fired at any time for providing truthful information or representation that is displeasing to the governor.”

Add it up, and Gov. Walker would get a pretty high score on the Sleaze-o-meter. He’s building an environment where it will be very difficult for anyone to disagree with him.

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