STATE CAPITOL NEWSLETTER: Governor’s reaction

by Matt Pommer

How will Gov. Scott Walker react to the voters’ decision in the just-completed state Supreme Court race ?

Will the apparent conservative victory further embolden the new governor? He already has self-assuredly pushed an often-controversial agenda, topped off by the effort to gut collective bargaining by state and local government workers.

Walker seems confident in his own decision-making. What seems lacking is someone to suggest he slow down and reexamine potentially controversial ideas and agency appointments.

Republican Warren Knowles, elected three times as governor, had such a person in the late Paul Hassett, a former lobbyist who served as Knowles’ executive secretary. Hassett was able to urge Knowles to give at least a 24-hour pause in decision-making.

Republican Tommy Thompson, elected four times as governor, had Jim Klauser as his key aide. Klauser, who served as secretary of administration in Thompson’s early years as governor, was a trusted aide who understood Capitol issues and legislators.

A recent stumble by the Walker administration shows the need for such a person. Shortly after Walker became governor, a 27-year-old son of a Republican-leaning lobbyist was given a $61,000 per year job. Less than three months later the young man, who had dropped out of college and had two drunk-driving convictions, was advanced to an $81,000 job in the administration, this time supervising scores of civil servants.

Press accounts caused a quick Walker administration retreat. The young man was demoted to the original $61,000 a year job. The press furor continued until the young man quit that post.

In the wake of that fiasco, the press will be paying closer attention to Walker appointments. The Legislature has approved making 38 positions into “administrators” and removing them from the civil service. The positions include those of lawyers, public information and legislative liaison jobs. The latter position is the key link between state agencies and the Legislature; technically, state agencies don’t “lobby” the Legislature, but the legislative liaison carries information both ways between the agency he or she works for and legislators at the Capitol. In any case, Walker and future governors will have nifty patronage posts available.

Reporters will have a wary eye on the new “communications directors.” They are accustomed to dealing with civil service information folks who have been honest and available, even when there was bad news to report.

Knowles and Thompson were wise enough to know they needed someone to cover their backs, offer advice sometimes difficult to accept, and help avoid ugly headlines.

These are heady days for Republicans. Despite the specter of a recount, a conservative seems to have been reelected to the state Supreme Court. It was a very close race, but Republicans have been having greater success at the ballot box in Wisconsin.

The 2010 election provided a GOP Assembly margin, the largest since the 1950s. Only once in the last 38 years have Republicans enjoyed the current five-vote majority in the state Senate. Republicans think their majority could grow larger in the upcoming recall elections.

That’s the sort of enthusiasm that could encourage Walker to accelerate the push to the right.


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