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Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014

Walker’s New Campaign Slogan:

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“Never Been Indicted!” is not a very strong campaign slogan for someone running for office. But apparently Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker thinks that should be enough.

There are plenty of reasons why the public release of 27,000 private emails between Walker and his taxpayer-paid staff as Milwaukee County executive about his campaign for governor was big, national news.

And it wasn’t because the emails were likely to show Walker had committed any chargeable crimes. In fact, everyone was pretty sure they didn’t.

Prosecutors in a three-year secret John Doe criminal investigation already had scoured those emails and decided none of them contained strong enough evidence to charge Walker with any crimes.

But is that the highest standard we expect of our public officials? That they not commit any crimes serious enough to send them to prison? Shouldn’t we elect better people than that?

The real interest in the private emails of Walker and staff members, including several who were sentenced to prison for crimes, was that they provided a rare, public glimpse behind the scenes in a major politician’s office.

And the sleaze and cynicism toward the public that was documented should be of concern to any decent citizen.

One fact made clear was that Walker himself was directly tied to a secret email system intentionally set up in his office to avoid public scrutiny of political activities the staff knew they shouldn’t be participating in.

Welcoming Walker’s deputy chief of staff, Kelly Rindfleisch, to the secret system, Administration Director Cindy Archer told her to be sure to check the private emails throughout the day because they were used often to communicate with Walker and his chief of staff.

Later, Rindfleisch gave someone else a private email address to use because “this one I’m using on my laptop to do things I shouldn’t be doing on my county computer.”

The secret system not only hid campaign work the county executive’s staff shouldn’t have been doing, but also hid business in Walker’s office from open records requests under state law.

 

Campaigning on Taxpayer Time Is Illegal

So is it a big deal that tax-paid office workers did campaign work? In Wisconsin, it sure is. It’s against the law. And in 2001-02, it was the center of an enormous legislative caucus scandal criminally convicting five state legislators and four aides. It ended the political careers of both Republican Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Chvala.

Rindfleisch, convicted of committing the same crime for Walker, was a recidivist. She also was involved in the previous scandal, was granted immunity and provided evidence against others.

Beyond that, the latest emails also reveal appallingly racist political attitudes among the staff Walker surrounded himself with.

Republicans immediately dismissed that as the sort of bad taste, politically incorrect humor among friends in private communications. They must have a lot more viciously racist friends than many of us do.

Typical was a joke emailed to Rindfleisch from an associate suggesting dogs should receive welfare payments because they are “mixed in color, unemployed, lazy, can’t speak English and have no frigging clue who their Daddys are.”

Rindfleisch replied: “That is hilarious! And so true!”

Were many of the cringe-worthy emails petty? They sure were.

So were emails from Walker himself suggesting his own staff members post anonymous comments on newspaper websites praising his administration whenever news stories didn’t make him look very good.

We really shouldn’t want petty politicians surrounded by petty, small-minded people with disgusting ideas about race and social differences to be in high offices making policy affecting all our lives.

One of the reasons the New York Times, The Washington Post and national networks did major stories on the emails coming back to haunt Walker is because Walker says Republicans should nominate someone exactly like himself for president in 2016.

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey already was well on his way to removing himself as a serious presidential candidate because of a petty local traffic jam that, like Walker, Christie has attempted to blame entirely on his staff.

Governors all over the country often look good from afar as presidential candidates until people—and the national press corps—get a really good look at them.

What the nation now sees is Walker dodging questions about an illegal private email system set up in his office to hide illegal campaign activity for which three staff members and three other associates have been convicted.

Over the weekend that even included being called out by Chris Wallace on Republican-friendly Fox News for refusing to answer questions.

But after spending more than $650,000 out of his legal defense fund to protect himself, Walker says the only explanation he owes the public is that he hasn’t been criminally charged.

That’s not really the only qualification that should determine whether someone is fit for public office.