With the 2018 gubernatorial elections fast-approaching, Gov. Scott Walker, in his bid for a third term, is unsurprisingly facing the usual spike in criticisms for his policies. But what is surprising is three of those criticisms are coming from former Walker cabinet members.
For some — especially those most hopeful politicians can overcome blind partisanship — this might be a sign that the administration wants to put the good of Wisconsinites before party wishes. For others, particularly those who support Walker, this signals discord within Wisconsin’s GOP.
But these kinds of diagnoses assume two things about partisanship and party loyalty — that they are avoidable, and that they are at odds with the common good. But it will shortly become clear that members of public office cannot be non-political and being loyal to the party platform is ultimately why they are in office.
First, it is not very clear whether party loyalty is even a factor in this discussion. Cabinet membership is not sufficient information for party membership, as most positions are by appointment, not election. The governor can surround themselves with whoever they please.
Additionally, because cabinet members are not elected, they do not have to respond to the electorate at-large. Their main job is to advise the governor within their department’s best interests. Obviously, the Corrections Secretary is going to care deeply about the living conditions in state prisons, the Financial Institutions’ Secretary is going to want their agency regulating the state banks smoothly and the transportation secretary is going to have the best knowledge about how roads work. Discord is bound to happen, especially if their interests compete with the Republican Party platform.
Second, the “good of Wisconsinites” is a buzz phrase used during election season that is completely meaningless — it denotes nothing. Given the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, it’s safe to say Wisconsin leans conservative —
and in terms of what is in everyone’s best interests, that is hard to say. Everyone will claim they have the moral knowledge.
For example, former Corrections Secretary Ed Wall — who earlier this year published a book interestingly titled “Unethical: Life in Scott Walker’s Cabinet and the Dirty Side of Politics” — adamantly criticizes the administration’s aloofness in handling allegations of mismanagement and prisoner abuse at the Lincoln Hills juvenile prison in Irma, Wisconsin, and is featured in a Tony Evers campaign video.
Wall claims to be the bastion of justice for neglected youth prisons and wants to hold the administration to a standard of proper management of state prison facilities — but it turns out, two years prior, the GOP Attorney General Brad Schimel fired Wall for directing the governor’s chief of staff to undermine the law by shredding public records. If Wall truly only cared about the prison conditions, then he would have written a book simply documenting the stories.
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Some people, like the former Department of Financial Institutions Secretary Peter Bildsten, believe they are outside of politics-as-usual but are, in fact, participating in the divisiveness. Featured in another Evers campaign video, the banking industry veteran who left the department in 2015, expresses his frustration for the highly politicized environment.
In the video, when asked to expand on “[the Walker administration] being more political,” Bildsten discusses a time when Walker suggested merging state agencies, and he took it to be an instance of Walker looking out for his own.
Given that the Republican Party of Wisconsin — which is committed to minimizing state regulatory agencies and cutting wasteful spending — represents the majority opinion in the state, it only makes sense that Walker takes a special interest in their concerns. Whenever it is one person’s opinion over an agreed-upon majority opinion, a public office-holder is always to agree with the latter.
Finally, the GOP has better things to worry about than three renegade cabinet members. Asking whether party loyalty is the necessary evil in politics-as-usual assumes that amongst either party, people can magically agree on everything.
Perhaps the most outspoken critic is civil engineer and former Department of Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb who resigned in 2016 over the all-too-familiar question of how to fund Wisconsin’s deteriorating roads. Gottlieb’s name recently entered headlines criticizing Walker’s opposition to any kind of gas tax increase not offset by other tax cuts. But here Walker is again staying true to the party platform which is dedicated to “lowering the tax burden for all Americans.”
In terms of whose good Gottlieb is most concerned with, his job required him only to care about the roads, whereas Walker act with the entire electorate in mind.
All three of these ex-cabinet members had a job and they lost it. That is the beginning and end of the story.
Lianna Schwalenberg ([email protected]) is a fifth-year senior majoring in communication arts and philosophy.