By Ruth Conniff
Governor Scott Walker continues to forge blindly ahead with his extreme rightwing agenda for Wisconsin, even as the winds of scandal are blowing ever stronger and are aimed right at him.
In a wide-ranging John Doe investigation now entering its third year, several of Walker's aides have been indicted for campaigning while working as members of his Milwaukee County Executive staff, while others are awaiting trial for embezzlement and child enticement.
A major campaign donor and former CEO of Wisconsin & Southern Railroad, William Gardner, was sentenced to two years probation and 100 hours of community service at a Milwaukee charter school last year for felony violations of Wisconsin election law for passing campaign donations to Walker through third parties.
Last week during the sentencing hearing of Kelly Rindfleisch, Walker's former deputy chief of staff, the Milwaukee County DA prosecuting the case introduced a 78-slide PowerPoint presentation containing damning evidence that implicates Walker directly. Rindfleisch was sentenced to six months in jail and three years probation.
Late Monday, the Milwaukee County DA's office announced that they had come to a plea agreement with another defendant, long-time Walker associate Timothy Russell. His trial on charges of using his Walker-appointed position to embezzle veterans' funds was due to begin on December 3, but this new agreement will forestall a trial if accepted by the judge.
At a press conference today, Walker denied any wrongdoing and told reporters that it is quite common for campaign workers and the publicly funded staff of elected officials to meet and assist each other with coordinating schedules and policy statements.
"Having discussions with campaign staff about schedules, staffing, the media, sometimes they're related to campaign-related policy," said Walker. "That was the primary purpose of those morning calls and it's completely legitimate and ethical in every way."
That's his story and he's sticking to it. Reality and evidence to the contrary be damned.
Today's press conference was called to publicize the 2012 Annual Report on Wisconsin Homeland Security. Major General Donald Dunbar presented Walker with the report detailing the priorities and expenditures of the nearly $3 million budget.
Maj. Gen. Donald Dunbar of the Wisconsin National Guard presents Walker with 2012 Annual Report on Wisconsin Homeland Security. Photo by Rebecca Kemble.
More than half of the budget is dedicated to upgrading communications equipment and software for law enforcement agencies, and staffing the Wisconsin Statewide Information Center (WSIC), one of two Homeland Security fusion centers in the state.
The WSIC is the place where all of the information from Walker's "If You See Something, Say Something™" campaign is processed. According to Dunbar, the center was "heavily involved in processing over 80 Suspicious Activity Reports."
In early October this year, the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs' Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released a blistering 141-page minority and majority staff report that skewers the Department of Homeland Security's fusion centers for ineptitude, disorganization, inefficiency, violations of citizens' privacy rights, and a massive waste of up to $1.4 billion.
Walker thanked Dunbar for the report and once again encouraged people to spy on their neighbors. "Folks in the public are our best partners in terms of reporting on things they see in the community," he said.
Always eager to push his ideological talking points, Walker answered a question about whether or not he supported Wisconsin Right to Life policy initiatives with a statement about how his administration has turned the state budget around and added, "I think people want us to focus on creating more freedom and prosperity for people in the state."
Walker then promoted his upcoming "Talk with Walker" tour where he will sell his five budget priorities to people in different communities around the state. In this video promoting the tour, Walker opens with, "We've taken big strides since I've taken office, particularly when it comes to changing the climate for businesses."
He added: "We (state government) spend less, the taxpayers of this state can spend more and that leads to a higher standard of living and greater economic growth."
Here are the priorities Walker laid out:
1) Job creation through deregulation and tax incentives
2) Workforce development in manufacturing and road construction trades
3) Education reform through union busting and high stakes standardized testing
4) Infrastructure development (road building, freight railways and harbors)
5) Government reform through creating efficiencies to "eliminate waste"
Those priorities probably will improve the climate for "job creators" by rendering labor and resources easier to exploit.
But the climate for the majority of Wisconsin citizens -- workers, school children, college students, elderly folks, family farmers, people facing homelessness, people without access to health care or health insurance -- will undoubtedly continue to decline.
The question I continue to ponder is this: How much more of a decline in civil rights and economic conditions will be necessary before people take to the streets again?
Rebecca Kemble reports for The Progressive magazine and website. She also participates when she can in the Solidarity Sing Along.
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