For over a hundred years, Wisconsin had a civil service code which was the yardstick to which other states and governments measured themselves by. It was created in response to the heavy cronyism, nepotism and corporate corruption in the state at the time. It was meant to ensure good government and that "Only the best shall serve."
Last year, Scott Walker and his Republican cohorts gutted these civil service protections. However, it wasn't until this week that state workers got a clearer picture of what they were going to face.
To say that the new system is rife with problems would be a gross understatement.
Instead of a civil service exam and objective evaluation, hiring will be subjective, meaning it's not what you know but who you know (or what your know about who you know). This will open the door to cronyism, nepotism and corruption to a degree not seen in decades.
This gutting of civil service protection also greatly accelerates the disciplinary process. Not only is discipline more subjective - a worker could get in trouble just if the manager doesn't like how they look - but it makes it easier to quickly terminate the worker without just cause.
What caught my eye was a point made by Rick Badger, Executive Director of AFSCME District Council 32:
Badger objected to that characterization, saying the new rules will “ironically” make it harder to retain current employees.
“Existing employees will now find it harder to do their jobs without fear of political retribution, and it now will be harder for state employees who leave their jobs to ever return,” Badger said.
That really struck a nerve with me.
It struck a nerve because Walker did that very thing to me when he was Milwaukee County Executive and I worked for the county.
In 2010, when Walker was running to be governor, his campaign revealed the corruption that he would become so well known for. Two of his top aides were caught doing illegal politicking.
Darlene Wink was caught making political comments at various websites, including the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, during the times she was at work. Likewise, Tim Russell was caught doing campaign work on county time. Wink and Russell were two of the six people arrested and convicted during the first John Doe investigation.
About a month after Russell got caught, a right wing front group closely allied with Walker, the misnamed Citizens for Responsible Government (CRG), filed a bogus criminal complaint against me, accusing me of doing the same things Walker's people were doing. They said that I was blogging while on county time. The problem with their complaint was that they accused me of blogging on major holidays, vacation days and on furlough days.
How dare I practice that Free Speech thingy on my own time!
What I was doing was looking at some blogs and the local news sites. But as my attorney, Michael Maistelman (the best damn political attorney in the state), had said:
If looking at websites that have political content, such as WisPolitics, Milwaukee Magazine, JSONLINE.COM, etc was a criminal act, most public employees would be in a heap of trouble. Chris was exonerated as expected.
Long story shorter, when the criminal charges failed, Walker tried to get me fired. Over ten months, they repeatedly brought charges against me. Finally, in April 2011, they found me guilty of wasting time and using the county computer for personal use and gave me a fifteen day suspension.
Fortunately, the union had my back. They were able to negotiate it down to a ten day suspension which got me out of the PRB's grasp. It was still unfair, but it was better than it might have been in that corrupt system.
Now, everyone knew that this was all about political retaliation by Walker, but there was no proof, no smoking gun.
That was until the emails from the John Doe investigation were released. Buried in those emails was this little beauty:
The sender was Cindy Archer, Walker's right hand woman and then head of Walker's Department of Administration. While she got some of her facts wrong, it was clear that she was referring to yours truly and saying that I needed to be fired because of what happened to Wink and Russell.
And the rest, as they say, his history.
But Wisconsin state workers should pay close heed to this story, because they could find themselves in similar situations if they are not very careful. Even worse, after Walker's attempts to bust the public sector union's, they might not have the same level of defense and recourse that I had back then.
The state workers - well, all of us really - need to be very mindful that fascism has indeed returned to Wisconsin with a vengeance.