(Updated: Originally posted Sunday, Feb. 4, 12:01 a.m.) I've had this picture (click on it for a surprise) out on my blog's home page for about a year labeled "Scott Walker, Train Wreck" - - - and now I see in it a possible route to understanding the unfolding Scott Walker political scandal and its core "what-were-they-thinking?" question.
What's needed is the same kind of go-back-to-the-beginning analysis that federal investigators use to figure out why a plane went down or a train derailed or 50 vehicles collided on an interstate highway. The goal is not to punish but to inform the public, ascertain the facts, and help prevent similar disasters down the road.
I spent years covering transportation catastrophes at the old Milwaukee Journal, and without exception, the official post-mortems would find that a disaster's earlier roots nurtured a more complex, causal web of cause-and-effect.
For example, when Midwest Airlines flight 105 crashed on takeoff in Milwaukee in 1985, killing 29 people, federal investigators almost immediately found a piece of metal on the runway that indicated an engine part called a "spacer" had broken.
But the cause-and-effect wasn't as simple as 'part broke, engine failed, plane crashed.'
The final investigative report into the crash of Flight 105 by the US National Transportation Safety Board and released after a lengthy probe said the tragedy's probable cause was the flight crew's having inputted an incorrect rudder command when the engine failed that "led to an accelerated stall and loss of control of the airplane."
A contributing factor, investigators said, was "a lack of crew coordination in response to the emergency."
So, yes, an engine spacer had failed on takeoff, and the pilots hadn't responded appropriately - - but the NTSB also noted the Federal Aviation Administration had recommended, but not mandated, that the problem spacer that failed be upgraded on an accelerated schedule even though 15 similar spacers had previously failed elsewhere.
And the final report questioned the adequacy of the airline's cockpit coordination and management plans and the FAA's approval of those plans, so in addition to a section on causality, the NTSB also:
issued two recommendations on flightcrew training in response to emergencies during the initial climb phase and one recommendation on qualifications for [FAA] Principal Operations Inspectors.So, yes - - the engine failed and the plane went down - - but foundational and institutional events and decisions elsewhere contributed to the crash.
Likewise, after the fiery derailment of a Central Wisconsin train in Weyauwega, WI in 1996, NTSB investigators again first pinpointed something broken - - a crack in a rail - - but subsequently ruled that earlier issues were related to the probable cause:
Why not apply this type of detailed, look-in-the-rear-view-mirror methodology to the crash of Scott Walker to look for ways to prevent a recurrence, and also answer questions like:"the switch point rail broke due to an undetected bolt hole crack that progressed from improper maintenance because Wisconsin Central management did not ensure that the two employees responsible for inspecting the track structure were properly trained.
* If after a mere ten years after the caucus scandal in Madison - - when Scott Walker had been in the Legislature, and presumably read the newspapers - - and after which public officials went to jail for directing and using public resources to manage partisan campaigns, how could Scott Walker's former Milwaukee County Executive and campaign staffers have put themselves in a position, or been directed, to commit caucus-scandal-style offenses with which they are now being charged?
* And after a much-bigger scandal brought down President Richard Nixon in 1974 - - when a secret campaign apparatus was established to raise and spend money illegally with the approval and direction of the White House - - how could some former Walker aides set up and use in his County office suite what the Milwaukee County John Doe says was a secret and illegal communications system to illegally coordinate political events and raise money for partisan campaigns?
So the issue is more than what the John Doe has alleged, or may expand.
The issue is: are there clues in Walker or his inner circle's past that can shed light on events now?
Here's where I think there is paydirt:
During the 2010 gubernatorial campaign, The National Journal cited the Marquette student paper when noting that Walker's sophomore-year run for Marquette student body president imploded over university ethics and campaign rule violations.
The Marquette Tribune wrote in 2010:
His sophomore year, Walker ran for president of the Associated Students of Marquette University (ASMU, the former title for Marquette Student Government). He was accused of violating campaign guidelines on multiple occasions.So what, if anything, got started, strengthened or weakened at Marquette University, where Walker and some of his long-time associates all went to school?
The Tribune reported then that he was found guilty of illegal campaigning two weeks before his candidacy became official. Later, a Walker campaign worker was seen placing brochures under doors at the YMCA. Door-to-door campaigning was strictly prohibited.
Walker initially denied this but later admitted to the violation, which resulted in lost campaign privileges at the YMCA.
In the run-up to election day, the Tribune’s editorial board endorsed Walker’s opponent John Quigley, but said either candidate had the potential to serve effectively.
However, the Tribune revised its editorial the following day, calling Walker “unfit for presidency.” The column cited Walker’s distribution of a mudslinging brochure about Quigley that featured statements such as “constantly shouting about fighting the administration” and “trying to lead several ineffective protests of his own.”
The revision also expressed disappointment in Walker’s campaign workers reportedly throwing away issues of the Tribune after the endorsement was initially made.
Walker dismissed this, saying he had no knowledge of what his supporters did, according to a Tribune article from February 25, 1988.
Were the seeds of Walker's current political breakdown sown in that troubled campus campaign nearly a quarter-century ago? Were there cracks in the track or the first signs of inept cockpit management already propagating, but we're still not seeing them, their connections and their full consequences?
The brakes on the Walker express are failing and the train is heading for a steep curve - - his sit-down with the same John Doe probe that has already charged Walker donors, former County employees and political operatives.
How did the Walker train get so far down that track? What did we miss about the crew, and especially the engineer?