Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker has hardly been in office a year and already his reckless brand of ultra-right politics and casual relationship to the truth have made him the most divisive politician Wisconsin has produced since Joe McCarthy.
Walker entered the national spotlight when he declared war on public workers, stripping them of their collective bargaining rights and reducing their paychecks through increasing pension and insurance contributions. In his home state, Walker is gaining a reputation for assembling the motliest crew in modern memory to place their greasy hands on the levers of power, as the Wisconsin media reports one scandal after another.
Long before the movement to recall Walker from office officially began in November, Walker had already stubbed his toe on questionable appointments. These included the appointment of Brian Deschane to one of the top administrative posts of the government agency charged with oversight of Wisconsin’s 300,000 licensed professionals. This appointment struck many as curious since Mr. Deschane had no management experience of any kind, and at 27 already had two DUI convictions under his belt. In addition some felt it odd that the son of the lobbyist for the Homebuliders Association would be assigned to an agency responsible for the licensing of Wisconsin’s Realtors, Land Surveyors, Engineers and others in similar fields.
The Governor’s solution was to move Mr. Deschane to the Department of Commerce and give him a $20,000 a year raise. When additional uproar ensued, Mr. Dechane was moved back to his original post, but resigned soon after. As it turned out, things would deteriorate so dramatically in such a short period of time that this incident from April of 2011 would later be looked back upon as the ‘good ol’ days’ of the Administration.
Prosecutors have now brought a total of fifteen felony and three misdemeanor charges against six of Walker’s closest aides and associates. Others have been granted immunity to aide in the probing of the Walker swamp of political and personal corruption.
The list of Walker crony misdeeds is extensive, but let’s start at the top with Tim Russell, a former Deputy Chief of Staff to Walker and a one-time GOP nominee for State Assembly. Russell’s employment record includes being dismissed from the quasi-public Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority for ‘gross misconduct’.
Walker however thought Russell was just the man to administer a fund meant to aide the children of Wisconsin military veterans killed in combat. Prior to Walker’s personal involvement, the funds were administered by a local American Legion post in what prosecutors termed an “exemplary” manner. Walker however thought it would be better managed if placed in the hands of a non-profit set up by Russell and a collection of Walker-connected political hacks. Once in his charge however, rather than help the sons and daughters of Wisconsin’s fallen, Russell and company instead swiped $60,000 and took a trip to both the Hawaiian and Caribbean islands. It wasn’t all sun, rum and fun for Russell however, some of the money went to fund trips to Atlanta to meet with GOP Presidential candidate Herman Cain and to defray the high costs of operating the website, ‘scottwalker.org’.
The website ‘scottwalker.org’ was operated by Brian Pierick. Pierick held a post at the Wisconsin State Department of Public Instruction where he dealt with a program meant to assist in the education of homeless kids. But his computer and cell phone were found to be littered with child pornography. Pierick is now facing charges of felony child enticement for exposing himself to a local youth and attempting to lure him into a van.
Another former Walker Deputy Chief of Staff, Kelly Rindfleisch, has been charged with four felonies for sending more than 1,000 fundraising and campaign related emails while clocked in as a taxpayer-paid employee. And Darlene Wink, Walker’s former Director of Constituent Services, was apparently a little more interested in serving the Walker campaign on public time than serving the constituents and has been charged with two misdemeanors.
Walker’s aides had hoped to conduct their schemes in the shadows via a secret email account set up by them to avoid the disinfecting sunlight of Wisconsin open records laws. These emails were sent back and forth from laptops open and in use a mere 25 feet from Walker’s own desk. Prosecutors are now sorting through the morass of these communications.
The bitter irony of Scott Walker assailing insurance and pensions for public employees as the root of all of Wisconsin’s fiscal problems while simultaneous stocking government positions with a rogues gallery of political reprobates has not been lost on anyone. But in Wisconsin, no one is laughing.
Photo: Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm gives a news conference, Jan. 5. Two people, including a former close aide to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker when he served as Milwaukee County executive, were arrested on felony theft charges as part of an ongoing criminal investigation of people who served in the county during Walker’s tenure. Carrie Antlfinger/AP