Monday, September 28, 2015

Tossing civil service would push WI across ethical divide

[Updated from Sunday, 9/27, 1:40 p.m.] Rarely has a state government set out to wreak havoc on itself to feed needy political egos, reward insiders and advance crackpot ideology (see Kansas, Brownback, et al), but that's where Wisconsin is headed.

So before it's too late, Wisconsin lawmakers should be forced in the name of fairness and logic to bury permanently a GOP-inspired plan that appeared out of nowhere last week to discard the protections for taxpayers which support and define the state government civil service personnel system.

Like similar and recent right-wing GOP efforts to kill the state Open Records law and the non-partisan Government Accountability Board, the civil service eradication proposal is a partisan power-grab, pure and simple and overwhelmingly self-interested and cynical.

Citing and hyping the slimmest of evidence - - a handful of headline-grabbing outrages by a few bad apples among tens of thousands of dedicated public servants and their multiple millions of hours of honest work - - game-playing GOP legislative leaders and an ever-opportunistic Gov. Walker again went to their deep well of anti-labor sentiment when announcing they intended to scrap civil service exams and turn state employee recruiting, hiring, promotion and termination over to agency heads whom Walker has already appointed.

Which will lead to personnel decisions - - from the mail room to the board room - - inevitably and intentionally influenced by friendships, party affiliations, political preferences and campaign donations.

How much control is enough for this Governor and his party?

Grossly-secretive and tilted redistricting has already allowed GOP legislators to reward Walker with  far greater powers than his predecessors wielded over state assets, including jobs.

*  He and department heads he's appointed can now appoint department-level, in-house attorneys whose positions, along with information specialists and other senior positions, were moved from civil service to at-will employment in the early days of his administration.

*  He can sell any state asset with minimal review by the legislature's budget-writing committee which he and his party control 12-4, and without competitive bids.

*  He can approve or turn aside administrative rules which have the force of law in Wisconsin, and which had previously been the subject of public hearings.

*  He, his 'chamber-of-commerce mentality' appointees and legislative allies have repeatedly corporatized and politicized the Department of Natural Resources and reorganized it to elevate business influence; little wonder that major exceptions and favors are being sought there, especially involving waters which belong to everyone.

* The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation he created and chaired for nearly its entire existence has been repeatedly caught making questionable loans and dubious grants while evading routine accounting and legal procedures set up  to protect the public interest and purse.

The Walkerites said all those practices were cumbersome - - the same justification being cited in the proposed civil service rollback.

Goodbye objectivity. Hello, spoils (and we've seen it before).

Welcome to Havocwreakistan.

Can you imagine a state hiring system where Big Pharma and insurers are better able to get their favored resumes more easily into the hiring process at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Do the road-builders and trucking firms need more influence at the WisDOT - - which purportedly regulates them?

Whose interest is being served if pipeline and fossil fuel businesses and builders gain even more access to staffing at the DNR and the Public Service Commission?

Should partisan organizations, lobbyists, and advocacy groups be better positioned to pitch their people to every state agency, with gubernatorial appointees able to make the hiring, promotion and firing decisions in coordination with the Governor or his office staff?

Wisconsin is at an ethical crossroads.

Inefficiency, waste, personal preferences for public personnel, partisan advantage and corruption - - the basics of political danger and heartbreak - - are dead ahead.


Anonymous said...

Does this mean Robin Vos has to step down? And what about other elected officials caught In flagrante delicto?

Judy Wilcox said...

You can bet they would be checking to see if the applicant's name appeared on the recall petition. No interview for them.

lufthase said...

Excellent post, but you forgot the next act.
This is going to set every state agency up for crisis and failure. The experienced, knowledgeable professionals who stayed on despite Act 10 will be chased out... to be replaced by donor offspring and mid- to low-level GOP campaign staffers. (The campaign managers, lawyers, and spokespeople have already claimed most of the unclassified positions.)

Every state agency will face crippling under-staffing and/or systemic incompetence.
What comes next? One by one, state agencies will be privatized.

Jake formerly of the LP said...

This is an excellent post, as lufthase has accurately identified the end game. And surprise, it involves big payoffs to campaign contributors while screwing taxpayers!

Anonymous said...

State employees still make good targets. I have to wonder why Walker Cronies can't get state jobs without these changes. Are they not qualified?

Anonymous said...

I am in state service and it's extremely clear on the inside that the goal is privatization, first corrections, and total control for whats left. This is really "The fire at a whim, hire my buds" act. But it cannot be anything but a method of destroying state service. What wasn't down the toilet is going now.

Sue said...

Still waiting for the JS Editorial Board's strong stand against this. They'll probably say some legislator needs to be voted out.
Oh, it doesn't affect them? Never mind.

Anonymous said...

Still looking for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin's strong statement in opposition to this!

Anonymous said...

This is what the majority of Wisconsin voters want. If people don't like what is happening then they should have convinced more people to vote differently. Democrats have only themselves to blame for turning away Wisconsin voters. Perhaps at the end we will vote to change the state name to Wiskochsin.

lufthase said...

Anon 12:34 -
You're right about the subset of the electorate that listen religiously to Charlie Sykes, but not the majority of WI voters. WI voters want decent paying jobs, economic growth, general personal safety, opportunity for their kids, the lights to turn on, generally saving money (including but not limited to taxes), etc. What Walker/WIGOP does is come up with policies to serve their own interests and then shoehorn it into a narrative that points towards those ends. This messaging/spinning is where Dems are coming up short.

Thing is, NOBODY ran on most of this stuff.

Find me a Wisconsinite who's saying:
"Gee, I'd really like to start a small business (or buy a new car, etc) this year, but with my neighbor Bob having civil service laws at his job at the DOT, I don't know if I can swing it. I've got this great business plan, but you know what I really need to get it off the ground? A $250 million cut to the UW. Teachers and prison guards being able to bargain for their working conditions is kind of a big hurdle too. And it would be really great if we could restrict early voting, disband the Govt Accountability Board, and gut Open Records laws. Yeah, that'd give me the confidence I need to take the plunge!"

Anonymous said...

lufthase, If the majority did not want this, then why were these people elected.In state elections the majority wins. We are getting exactly what we deserve for being so weak and uninformed. New name Wiscossippi ?

lufthase said...

Anon- I think you're missing my point that most of these egregiously bad policies are "governing by surprise." Gutting civil service laws, open records, GAB, etc weren't ever on the table as election issues, so Walker/GOP can't claim a mandate from the voters for this stuff.

You and I probably agree that WI Dems have done (and continue to do) a terrible job on messaging and connecting with voters; and, further, that the WI electorate is under/mis-informed.

However, the attitude that we should blame the voters or that Wisconsinites are getting what they "deserve" doesn't do anybody any good. We're in a bad spot, it's gonna take a long time clean up Walker's messes, and we should be identifying where to focus our efforts -- and part of that is placing blame, not on the WI electorate we hope to win-over, but on Dem Party Leadership, Dem Candidates, the MJS editorial board, generally lazy/false-equivalence-pushing/sensationalist media, RW radio, voter suppression, voter apathy (gets back to Dems' messaging/motivating), gerrymandering, astro-turf groups like Americans for Prosperity, billionaires wielding outsized influence, campaign finance laws not being enforced, etc.

Furthermore, your question about what "the majority" wants can just as easily be turned around. If there's a clear "majority" in WI that wants all this extremist, Tea Party, power-grab stuff, then how heck did Tammy Baldwin get elected to US Senate? Baldwin actually got 210,000 more votes than Walker ever has. The deck is certainly stacked against us for mid-term state govt offices, but Baldwin's and Obama's success disproves the Walker's-clear-mandate, WI-wants-this stuff.

Recent election results, for your consideration…

2014 - Walker 52.26% of 54.84% Turnout (28.66% of Elig. Voters) = 1,259,706 votes

2012 - Baldwin 51.41% of 70.14%Turnout (36.06% of Elig. Voters) = 1,547,104 votes
2012 - Obama 52.83% of 70.14% Turnout (37.05% of Elig. Voters) = 1,620,985 votes

2012 Recall - Walker 53.08% of 57.58% Turnout (30.56% of Elig. Voters) = 1,335,585 votes

2010 - Walker 52.25% of 49.66% Turnout (25.95% of Elig. Voters) = 1,128,941 votes

Anonymous said...

Lufthase, Thank you. You almost take away my cynical attitude. Please give me a name who is not a hypocrite I can support.

public school educated, US marine trained, UW Madison grad ,Union Member career,
AR 10 and AR 15 owner

Sue said...

Anon and Lufthase, I see both of your points. But would you consider my own point, the one I've repeated several times on several blogs: By the recall (second) election, anyone who was surprised by anything that happened hadn't been paying attention. By the third election those who voted for Walker et al deserved what they were very surprised to find out was happening to them along with those other Wisconsinites they assumed deserved it.
That's why I think it's so important to point out 2014 election results when something hits the fan in a red community. It's not being nasty, it's part of that 'paying attention' thing that was so important then and even more so right now.

lufthase said...

Anon - I'm not a party insider by any means, but from my limited interactions with them, I think Julie Lassa, Kathleen Vinehout, Peter Barca, Chris Taylor, and Janet Bewley are all sincere, thoughtful people trying to do what's best for WI and are worth supporting. I don't always agree with them 100% of the time, but I think they're genuinely trying to do the right things for the right reasons. Such is life in a 2 party system.

Sue - I totally agree that we should be pointing out WIGOP failures, especially when they hit home in "Red" areas. (Ideally, this should be coming from Dem candidates in those areas, but failing that we bloggers/commenters must keep up the drumbeat.)

Just maybe use different language. Telling anybody they "deserve" what they're getting isn't gonna translate into votes very well. It just reinforces the us-vs-them, politics-as-a-team-sport mentality that's been tearing our state apart (and making it that much easier for Walker to create scapegoats to divide and conquer). Talking about voters getting what they "deserve" also sounds a bit like we're giving up.

We all know folks who truly take some perverse delight in seeing harm done to their preferred scapegoats. They may be loud and may even donate the most money, but I don't think they make up the majority of Walker voters; and we're not going to convince them of anything anyways.

The folks we need to reach are the ones without giant yard signs whose news intake consists of 20 minutes of 620-AM on their way home from work, and maybe the largely useless if-it-bleeds-it-leads Fox 6 News at 10. Their sparse information-intake is generally because they're busy with tons of other stuff (and often disgusted by politics of all stripes); it's not a character flaw. They've been fed "GOP = Good for Business" and "Dems = High Taxes, Taking Away Your Guns, and Handouts to Undeserving Welfare Queens." They're exposed to these themes/narratives/spin, but not to actual results or policy analysis.

I think you're hitting on the most important things we can do to reach these folks -- point to concrete results in their local area. Talk about how GOP policies cost jobs, increase local taxes, decrease vital local services they take for granted, hurt the quality of education, poison our drinking water, limit access to healthcare (raising costs for everybody), and generally make WI a crummier place to live (driving away young, talented people)… and put a human face on the scapegoat du jour.

Peter Felknor said...

Two things that would help to fix our state quickly:

1) We need to recall Walker, Fitzgerald, Vos, Darling, Vukmir et al. and make them stand trial for conspiring to destroy Wisconsin for their own personal gain. There's a reason why Walker stacked the Supreme Court and then had the John Doe records destroyed.

2) After these people are removed from office, we need to quickly introduce an "Act 9" that would undo every bit of the criminal legislation introduced by the above-named.

It would be a start.

Anonymous said...

That would be the same strategy that failed in the past, made democrats look crazy and allowed SW to honestly claim 2 more victories. Protesting just makes people feel good about themselves while they buy overpriced organic food, cute named coffee and overpriced cars which no poor person could actually buy. But of course they still claim that they really care. The only answer is to come up with candidates who can convince more people to actually vote for them.

Anonymous said...

Along with assembly and Senate seats drawn in a fair and honest manner - this would require no log rolling. I do believe Dems had more statewide votes for both houses than the current, so called, "majority."

Anonymous said...

How do you explain the Republicans winning when Democrats drew the lines for their own benefit. Move forward. What is the PLAN for 2016 and 2018. Do something to attract votes or get steam rolled again and look like cry babies

Jake formerly of the LP said...

Can you do that last post in English next time? And with something resembling facts?

The easy answer for Democrats in 2016 and 2018 is a central message of "We aren't bought-off and corrupt, and we actually care about what happens to the average Wisconsinite."

lufthase said...

Anon 12:50 - For the record, Democrats never had a chance draw WI district lines for their benefit. After the 1970, 1980, 1990, and 2000 censuses, the legislature deadlocked and the district lines were drawn by the courts each time. The post-2010 GOP redistricting was the first time one party got to unilaterally draw the lines in a long, long time.

I agree with Jake, with the caveat that in addition to pointing out failure/damage caused by GOP polices and corruption we need to be proposing clear alternatives. For example, Barca and Lassa are on the right track with proposing a new proper (and transparent!) state agency to take over WEDC awards. As much as we scream bloody murder about the obvious corruption and incompetence at WEDC, without an alternative model it would be very easy for GOP to cherry-pick a few "success stories" and say "if you're against WEDC, you're against workers at XYZ company or against all businesses/economic growth/etc."

I think we continue to struggle with this on K12-- since we oppose vouchers, we're easy targets for being labeled complacent and supporting whatever "failing" public school GOP deigns to point at. The real answer is mostly centered around improving and stabilizing students' lives outside the classroom, but that's very nuanced and tough to measure. I don't know how we get that message to resonate broadly, but figuring that out needs to be a high priority.