Monday, September 12, 2016

Should a Legislature oversee an exec's actions? Not in Fitzwalkerstan!

As information about the neglect and diverted funding at Wisconsin’s King Veterans Home continues to come to light, it has led to calls from both parties for an audit, which will likely be formalized with action from the Joint Audit Committee next week. I want to go in a slightly different direction on this story, because it also shows a trend toward our Governor making moves on his own that involve large sums of money and important policy. Last I checked, the legislative branch is supposed to have a say in matters like this, but increasingly in Fitzwalkerstan, they do not, or the WisGOPs in charge do not want to.

I'll direct you to this passage from Katelyn’s Ferral’s follow-up story on the bad things going on at the King homes from September 3. Not only does Ferral show an important difference between Gov Walker’s transfers of nursing home money to fill in budget gaps in the Veterans Trust Fund and what was done several years back by the Doyle Administration, but Walker also eliminated the ability to have others step in and draw attention to these moves.
During the Doyle administration, the Department of Veterans Affairs was governed by the Board of Veterans Affairs, an oversight board made up of representatives from the veterans community.

When Walker took office, he made the Department of Veterans Affairs a cabinet agency, reducing the oversight of the Board of Veterans Affairs. It is now an advisory board only.

In his 2014-15 budget, Walker gave the agency the power to unilaterally transfer money from the homes. Approval from the Joint Finance Committee was previously required for any transfers.
This is an important distinction, and it shows the dishonesty in Walker’s office trying the “Doyle did it too” defense (memo to Walker flack Tom Evenson "PUT THAT TALKING POINT DOWN!"). The consolidation of power under the Governor paved the way for the Walker Administration to do these transfers on their own in secret, allowing them to not have to notify the public until after the fact, as part of status updates on the Veterans Fund many months later. There wasn’t a chance for DVA personnel to be brought in front of JFC and be asked about what was going on in the homes before these funds were taken away for other purposes, and it kept the public from being alerted to what was happening before the damage was done.

This also continues a disturbing habit of the Walker Administration grabbing power and acting on its own without any veto power from other elected officials or agencies. This Administration has skipped debt payments in each of the last two fiscal years, and the Legislature wasn’t even told about it until those moves had been made, let alone be given a chance to map out an alternate strategy to keep the budget stable. And just this weekend, Walker’s Department of Corrections gave notice that it was going to destroy certain records, without any formal change in state law going through the Legislature.
Winn Collins, DOC’s chief legal counsel, said in a letter to Public Records Board chairman Matthew Blessing that DOC intends to apply a public records retention rule that allows public officials to destroy records the day they are created to videos classified as “motivational interviewing” — often role playing.

If the recordings classified as motivational interviewing are needed to evaluate an employee, then a different retention rule will be applied — requiring the records to be kept for at least eight years.

The decision to continue to apply the retention rule to the recordings comes weeks after officials withdrew a proposal to destroy training recordings after just one day of their creation….

The similar proposal, first made in July, was scrapped and withdrawn from the Public Records Board’s consideration after board members expressed concerns over allowing the quick destruction of such recordings.

Cook said in July that the proposed rule would cover audio and video recordings meant for “skill practice, technique training and quality assurance of service … within training courses, on-the-job training or while performing job duties.”
Even worse, we don’t see the WisGOP-run Legislature wanting to step in and even perform an ounce of oversight in these instances, or many others where the Walker Administration acts unilaterally. Few hearings have been held to ask why these types of moves have been made, and an early change in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan allows the Walker Administration to throw together rule changes for laws with only a token hearing needed from the GOP-dominated Committee for the Review of Administrative Rules (interestingly, that group meets tomorrow on topics such as pre-employment drug testing and firearms training for concealed training courses).

So instead of being a legitimate branch of government that can examine and limit the power of the Governor, members of the WisGOP-run Legislature has largely been on a 10-month taxpayer-funded vacation, which started with their decision to adjourn for the session in March, and has included only a handful of small committee meetings in the time since. And these guys have the nerve to complain about teacher salaries “because they get summers off?”

WisGOP’s open contempt for checks and balances and their sense of entitlement are disgusting, but it’ll only change if the legislators in charge are changed. Which makes these November elections important downticket, because changing the Legislature is one of the few ways the Walker Administration can be slowed down from making the arbitrary and often-reckless decisions that we don’t find out about until it’s too late.


  1. Thanks for a very revealing post on a topic I've been thinking about. In a functioning democracy our government puts checks and balances on power. The executive branch does not control the legislative and judiciary. Walker is getting more brazen with his unilateral moves, thinking he can get away with them with little or no oversight, much as Reagan and Bush did with what was called acting on the "universal executive" doctrine (

    There would be no SKW without Michael Grebe. For years Grebe was general counsel with the RNC, working with the GOP since Reagan's election. With the way Reagan and Bush acted, how could Scott Walker operate any differently?

    Walker has had WisGOP majority control over Assembly and Senate, and recently got much control over the judiciary with Rebecca Bradley. Walker now controls, through Federalist Society member Michael Brennan, who gets to be judges (the U.S. Chamber of Commerce provided that scheme with, then Walker, by Executive Order, followed suit with

    The DOC now using "motivational interviewing" (a highly manipulative form of psychological counseling) as criteria for employment raises all sorts of red flags, and goes to show just what gutting our civil service laws has ruined Wisconsin's reputation for open and honest government.

    Dems had better start doing things to fix this situation--a big turnout this November needs to happen!

    1. Good post, and great points. Consolidation of power is exactly how these people roll. I remember Rep. Chris Taylor (going behind enemy lines) hearing an ALEC speaker saying something to the effect of "we could do things a lot easier if we could get the voters out of the way."

      None dare call it fascism...but it sure ain't democracy or a republic