Scott Walker’s Biggest Power Grab Hides in Wisconsin Budget Bill

Mar 22 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

King Walker Following in Bush's footsteps

Walker is following Bush’s leadership style to the letter. Hidden in the budget repair bill is a frightening power grab wherein Walker expands the powers of the executive branch by making 50% of the civil service jobs, spanning over 15 state agencies, into political appointees (according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau), who basically serve the Governor’s will rather than the people.

Naturally, we ask ourselves, what can go wrong? It depends on your values. If, for instance, you think the public should have a right to a transparent government, you will be dismayed to learn that one department Walker is politicizing is the public records office. This means that when a newspaper files a freedom of information request, like both the AP and the Isthmus did against Governor Walker, the records office will be considering the agenda of the Governor rather than the intent of the law. It is possible to follow the letter of the law while violating the intent, after all. And we already know that Walker didn’t think he had to comply with FOIA requests, as he forced the papers to sue him for release of his emails.

What else can go wrong? Well, gee, Walker also politicized the top lawyer spot at the agency overseeing state labor law (Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission). The WERC handles union bargaining disputes and oversees state labor laws. This agency already has three commissioners who are appointed by the governor, and therefore the top legal post often falls into the position of being the non-partisan who can stand up to the governor when need be, since this position was not dependent upon the Governor’s favor in the past.

I’m sure that’s comforting, knowing Walker’s feelings toward labor. All labor, that is, save the mistresses of certain senators whose vote he needed for his union busting bill. Yes, indeed, what can go wrong.

The Sentinel Journal reports:

The law would make existing civil-service positions into 37 new political appointments, including 14 general counsels, 14 communications positions in state agencies and other positions, including legislative liaisons doing lobbying for agencies. That would allow Walker and agency secretaries to hire and fire employees in those positions at will.

Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie said that made sense because workers in those jobs represent Walker as part of their work….

Most of the positions have at least some duties providing information to the public. For instance, the general counsels serve as their agencies’ top lawyers and handle requests under the state’s open records law as well as a host of other issues, from advising agency secretaries to personnel matters.

“I think it’s important that agencies have public spokespeople who feel a sense of responsibility to the public and the public’s right to know. Anything that erodes that is bad for Wisconsin,” said Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council.

This is an example of the “limited government” conservatives keep screeching about during elections and while waving flags in front of an insipid media. In no way, shape or form does this qualify as limited government. This is an expansion of powers and a politicization of trusted civil service positions that will now serve the governor’s whim. It is involves subordinating ability to politics, which means that we often end up with people who don’t even understand the laws they are charged with upholding.

I know you like to forget, but this story is best understood in context by recalling one of George W Bush’s power grab. Which part of it, you ask, holding your nose to stave off the nausea. Good question. One of the lesser-known evils perpetrated by W was the egregious way he expanded political appointments in the Department of Justice.

While there have always been political appointments, there are also jobs that are supposed to be non-partisan for obvious reasons. Those jobs are often lifetime career jobs, so it makes sense that they should be hired on merit and on an allegiance to serving a higher good than the executive’s agenda. Bush stacked the DOJ with religious fundies who abused their power and hired others based on their political and religious affiliations, resulting in the Monica Goodling (the former top aide to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and 4th tier Regent Law School fundie) scandal surrounding the firing of US attorneys scandal. In this case, the investigators were denied access to the Bush administration’s emails as well as the cooperation of a cadre of Bush lackeys. The only thing that made this possible is that Bush had the DOJ crawling with political partisans hired for loyalty to the King rather than ability.

Scott Walker mimics Bush in other ways; he’s not that smart, he has already shown an affinity to dodging records requests, and he has way more faith in his governing than his past would indicate appropriate. They both subordinate ability to politics in hiring decisions. And they are both dogmatic fundamentalists to boot, a personality trait that seems to conflict with the rather important qualities of reason, judgment, diplomacy, and compassion.

It’s now standard operating procedure for a conservative government to be run by dogmatic demagogues with jingles for brains and a blind allegiance to principles they don’t examine let alone comprehend. There is no greater threat to our democracy than the party in power using political appointments to hurt its enemies while protecting its friends (in Walker’s case, this means protecting Koch brothers while going after the majority of Wisconsinites he’s sworn to serve) for partisan political purposes.

Walker’s Draconian approach to governing degrades the balance of power as well as the checks and balances our system depends upon. It seeks to hide from the public rather than seeking transparency. And ultimately, it seeks to impose Walker’s will like a dictator, with no one minding the store.

In the same way that Bush politicized previously non-partisan career positions, thereby insuring his agenda remain in tact even now that’s he’s finally gone, what Walker is doing in Wisconsin is employing the Republicans approach to governing. Get into office, whether elected or appointed, and immediately take over every office that could possibly interfere in your agenda or come to haunt you or expose you to the public. After that, it’s a free-for-all.

Walker is a kid in an empty candy shop. The question isn’t will he, it’s what will stop him.

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