In its gubernatorial recall endorsement of Scott Walker, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board put distance between Walker as former Milwaukee County Executive and several then-staffers now charged in the John Doe probe:
The investigation, which has been going on for nearly two years, has looked into a variety of activities during the time Walker was county executive. Prosecutors have charged three ex-Walker aides and two others; more charges may be coming. Walker has set up a legal-defense fund.And while the "he is cooperating" declaration has been since undermined by a Journal Sentinel story, the line of argument begs a few questions as we wait and see if there is a post-election John Doe postscript.
But the governor has insisted that he is not a target of the investigation and that he is cooperating. While the investigation surely is troubling, no evidence revealed so far implicates Walker. Overzealous political associates sometimes get in trouble.
* If there were overzealous political associates on Walker's staff or in the government, who hired them, and for what tasks?
* Are we to believe such staffers were basically strategic freelancers, without direction - - and why would they take the risks that also put others in jeopardy, too - - including the boss himself?
* Are there perils to (too-much) loyalty for both boss and staffer, especially in public offices?
Put another way: Somehow the office got equipped and staffed up with partisan operatives, technology and goals aimed at political campaign success. Was there an office script and cultural architecture the Doe can find or reconstruct?
I'd argue that the definition of County Executive that Walker created for himself and the style of office he chose could have contributed to the mess that the John Doe is now trying to unravel - - in other words: don't so-called overzealous employees function need a work environment where they are deemed vital, or at least tolerated?
Go back to the fall of Tom Ament as County Executive in 2002. Walker won as a reformer, the non-Ament, if you will, but Walker's reforms didn't come with an ambitious, big-picture policy agenda to make County services cutting-edge, for example.
For that kind of 'reform,' you'd need a crop of wonks. The kind of people who like public service for its pure, selfless content - - public nursing, for example, or community redevelopment - - without an eye to private gain.
Walker's plan was to cut government, burnish his ideological credentials and use the office to position himself as the go-to conservative candidate for higher office.
Which he did locally with talk radio appearances and out-state through his highly-publicized motorcycle rides, plus a short-lived candidacy for the 2006 GOP gubernatorial primary and finally as the GOP front-runner and eventual winner in 2010.
Walker's agenda was personal advancement, period.
How do you staff that kind of office and administration?
With more game-players than policy types, more organizational foot-soldiers and hangers-on with established loyalties - - a Tim Russell, for example, already bonded to the candidate/office-holder who provides jobs and paychecks - - rather than with fresh faces and independent resumes and perspectives who want to serve the people.
And who also might even say "no" to the boss, if need be, than might job-dependent old political friends with whom said boss has surrounded himself with.
Note that Walker disbanded one office to which Russell had been assigned, but that didn't mean Russell disappeared from County government.
Russell, known to Walker since college, would be kept around and tasked to a veterans' program Walker wanted run out of the County Exec's office - - and that led to Russell's charging in the Doe probe for allegedly stealing money from the program.
Russell, who at one point had risen as high as Walker's Deputy Chief of Staff, was also named as the staffer who allegedly set up the now-infamous secret email router that was close to Walker's office and was used by political operatives for work on campaigns.
The complaint does not list all the officials who used the secret system, but it does say the unofficial networking system was set up in the county executive's office suite by Russell while he was Walker's deputy chief of staff.An administration's strategic focus on politics and not public policy would explain why someone like a Darlene Wink has pleaded guilty to campaigning on public time after ostensibly having been hired as a Walker constituent relations manager.
Russell's county office was less than 25 feet from Walker's on the third floor of the courthouse, the complaint notes.
And why Kelly Rindfliesch, another former Walker Deputy Chief of Staff - - living in the County in a rented room in a West Allis residence owned by longtime senior Walker associate, adviser and campaign aide Jim Villa - - has also been charged with allegedly performing political work on public time.
After joining the Walker office somehow without Chief of Staff Tom Nardelli knowing she'd been hired.
The complaint said Walker's chief of staff, Tom Nardelli, was unaware that Rindfleisch had been hired when she showed up on her first day of work...
Rindfleisch, 43, went to work for Walker in January 2010 as a policy adviser before replacing Russell as the county executive's deputy chief of staff at a salary of $59,560 a year. She left the county job on Nov. 12, 2010, less than two weeks after Walker defeated Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in the governor's race...
Rindfleisch scaled back on her fundraising work on county time after Wink resigned, according to the criminal complaints.
"I took the wireless down," she wrote Russell in an email on the day Wink quit and the Journal Sentinel published its story about Wink's comments.Here's a good summary of some Rindfliesch work in the Walker office, including this item pulled from her charging document:
In online chats Jim Villa told Rindfleisch "YOU are the political operation in that office now..."Remember that Watergate was first dismissed as 'a third-rate burglary."
Let's hope the John Doe tells us whether the partisan activities unearthed in the probe were just the extra-curricular activities of overzealous underlings, if there was a first-rate blueprint being directed and followed, or if the truth lies somewhere in between.