Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Scott Walker, John Doe, and Frontier Airlines' demise in Milwaukee

At first glance, it might seem that Scott Walker shouldn't be entirely blamed for the huge cutbacks announced last week by Frontier Airlines in Milwaukee, with nearly 450 estimated job losses, and the amount of daily flights out of Mitchell Field cut in half. It could just be the regular ups and downs of one airline that has had a troubled past of leadership, as it transferred from Midwest Express to Republic Airways and then became part of Frontier Airlines over the course of a few years.

But then read Capper's excellent summary of the decline of Midwest/Frontier, and you see Walker's fingerprints all over this. Remember, Milwaukee County runs Mitchell Airport, which means that the County Executive has oversight of how the airport is run and which airlines can operate. And then Capper reminds you who helped Walker in his little bike ride around Wisconsin.
In 2009, when Scott Walker went on one of his infamous Harley Davidson bike rides to promote his campaign tourism in Milwaukee County, he added a new twist - a corporate sponsor. That corporate sponsor was Air Tran Airlines. It turned out that Walker had given Air Tran expanded space at Mitchell International Airport just a few weeks before Air Tran announced that they were going to sponsor Walker's bike ride.
That's right, Walker allowed a company that he had to deal with as part of his County Exec job pay money to sponsor something that in reality was nothing more than a campaign stunt.

Was Air Tran's sponsorship of Walker a payback? Well, you tell me. AirTran expanded its influence greatly in the Milwaukee market during that time period, first in 2008 and then again in 2009, grabbing increase gate space along the way with the approval of Scott Walker. In the short-term, this certainly helped Milwaukee air travelers, as the competition from Air Tran and Southwest helped to cause major increases in Mitchell Field traffic.

And Scott Walker was quick to grab credit. During his primary victory speech in Sept. 2010, he gloated about the "fastest growing airport in Milwaukee", despite an aviation consultant saying the growth had "nothing to do with county government" and had everything to do with 3 airlines "trying to kill each other." And a big reason this was allowed to happen was the quid pro quo that had Walker giving extra airport space to Air Tran while Air Tran sponsored Walker's "tourism ride" around Wisconsin. So the inevitable demise of one of those 3 airlines in Frontier could certainly be traced back to the short-term "grow now" policies of Walker, which mirrors much of the short-term stunts he pulled in Milwaukee County that caused looming problems to grow larger and potentially explode after he was gone. And it's the same policy he's trying to pull for the rest of Wisconsin right now.

However, there's another fun link to Walker's Air Tran corruption and his disgusting bike ride. John Doe chargee Tim Russell had a major role in Walker's little stunt, despite the fact that he was allegedly not on the 2010 campaign and serving as Housing Director in Milwaukee County at the time. The good stuff starts around 0:21, with Russell dressed up in an Air Tran-sponsored jacket and looking like a NASCAR pit crew member. So the guy who Scott Walker emailed from a campaign email account the night of Darlene Wink's arrest to lay down the order of "no laptops, no websites....we can't have anything like this happen again," also seems to be enthusiastically going along with Air Tran's effort to sponsor Scott Walker's campaign event. And that expansion that Russell and Walker's buddies from Air Tran pulled off at the same, with generous help from the Administration of then-County Executive Scott Walker, may have been a big reason why Frontier Airlines announced a major job loss last week.

Yes, the corruption and circles of influence all come around eventually, and not surprisingly, this ends up causing serious pain to the Milwaukee area in the end. This is true not only for the hundreds of workers and their family members that get hurt due to Frontier's job losses, but also for the hundreds of thousands of fliers out of Mitchell Airport, because they will now be facing higher fares due to the lack of competition that is going to come out of these cutbacks.

H/T Cognitive Dissidence

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