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POMMER: Will court race embolden Walker?

By Matt Pommer

How will Gov. Scott Walker react to the voters’ decision in the just-completed Wisconsin 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 a year job. Less than three months later the young man, who had dropped out of college and had two drunken-driving convictions, was advanced to an $81,000 job in the administration, this time supervising scores of civil servants.

News media reports caused a quick Walker administration retreat. The young man was demoted to the original $61,000 a year job. The news media furor continued until the young man quit that post.

In the wake of that fiasco, the news media will be paying closer attention to Walker appointments. The Legislature has approved making 38 positions into “administrators” and removing them from the civil service, including legislative liaisons. Those positions are the key link between state agencies and the Legislature.

Technically, state agencies don’t “lobby” the Legislature; however, the liaison carries information between the agency and legislators. In any case, Walker and future governors will have nifty patronage posts available.

These are heady days for Republicans. Despite the specter of a recount, a conservative seems to have been re-elected to the state’s Supreme Court. It was a close race, but Wisconsin Republicans have seen greater success at the polls.

The 2010 election provided a GOP Assembly majority, the largest since the 1950s. Only once in the past 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 a push to the right.

Matt Pommer worked as a reporter in Madison for 35 years. He comments on state political and policy issues.

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