The news is that Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker has named Jim Villa as his new Chief of Staff. It should run in the Milwaukee paper tomorrow.
The reason for this is very simple and very human. Scott Walker has been taking a lot of undeserved heat lately for his Harley ride across the state on County time. He has also taken heat for things happening in the County, like the museum scandal, the illegal use of a county van, the possible closing of some county pools, the threat to charge people for camping before the fireworks, etc. The fact is that anything that happens within Milwaukee County government will reflect on Walker – even if it is not directly his fault.
Truth be told, Scott Walker has handled the vast majority of the county shenanigans very well, but they still put his name in the paper tied to something bad.
Because Walker is feeling the heat, he wants to bring someone in whom he trusts and who has an acute political nose for managing county affairs. Jim Villa is that guy. There is nothing more natural in the world than a guy pulling his friends closer when he is feeling threatened.
This move will have some serious ramifications. The first ramification will be that the mainstream media, lead by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel will attempt to crucify Walker for mixing his campaign with County business. The MSM has already been all over Walker for supposedly using County dollars for campaign functions for his Harley tour. Walker’s decision to put a campaign operative on the county payroll as his Chief of Staff will be seen as an even more “ominous” move to “mix county and political business.”
This charge is a bunch of baloney. The Chief of Staff position is almost always filled by a political guy (or gal). The Chief of Staff is generally the gatekeeper. He decides who gets access to the politician and who does not. As such, the Chief of Staff position is usually given to a political operative who will keep the politician from getting into trouble.
For example, Governor Jim Doyle’s Chief of Staff is Susan Goodwin. Susan Goodwin used to work for Doyle as a state employee when he as the Attorney General. When he ran for governor, she became his campaign manager. When he got elected, she became his Chief of Staff. In fact, she got into some trouble with Common Cause for mixing campaigning with state business. Check out this report from 2002
Doyle’s schedule shows Susan Goodwin, a former state aide to Doyle and now his campaign manager, apparently traveling with him on days Doyle met with donors or campaign advisers.
On Aug. 11, 1999, Goodwin is listed as traveling to Milwaukee with Doyle and meeting for 90 minutes with Barb Candy, a fund-raiser for Doyle, and Chuck Pruitt, Doyle’s campaign chairman. Another man Doyle was slated to meet with that day for an hour, attorney Bill Guis, donated money both before and after that date. Goodwin’s vacation records show she took off one hour that day.
On Sept. 23, 1999, Goodwin is listed as traveling to Milwaukee with Doyle and meeting for three hours with Bob Friebert, Doyle’s finance chairman and a frequent campaign contributor. She didn’t take any vacation time for that day.
On Nov. 22, 1999, Goodwin is listed as accompanying Doyle to Milwaukee, where his schedule lists him making 45 minutes of phone calls from Friebert’s law office; a three-hour meeting with Bill Christofferson, Doyle’s longtime political adviser; and a 30-minute meeting with Matthew Flynn, a Democratic activist and frequent donor to Doyle. Goodwin claimed three hours of vacation time for that day.
On June 22, 2000, Goodwin is listed on Doyle’s schedule as going with him to Milwaukee for another meeting with Friebert, this one nearly three hours long. Goodwin’s records show no vacation time taken for the day.
Goodwin always claimed vacation or leave time for political events, but sometimes after the fact, said Christofferson, now Doyle’s campaign director. The June 22, 2000, and Sept. 23, 1999, Friebert scheduled meetings never happened, he said.
As you can see, she is a political operative who is serving as Jim Doyle’s Chief of Staff.
Jim Villa, in fact, has been Walker’s Chief of Staff before. He is returning to the position. This leads me to the next possible ramification - if the MSM can’t get traction with the above spin, they might try to tie Walker to Ament by accusing him of “cronyism.”
Again, this claim is without merit. Politicians are people just like you and me. They generally choose people that they know and trust to be on their staff. Cronyism is when a politician picks their friends for positions even if their friends are not qualified. As I said, Villa has been Chief of Staff before. He is certainly qualified. Unless the MSM can dig up an old article where they complained about Villa’s work in the past, they don’t have any room to complain now.
Another ramification may be in the area of fundraising. For better or worse, Walker is been in the news quite a bit lately for things that aren’t good. Some of these stories weren’t his fault and he responded very well to other stories. Regardless, his name has been in the news a lot.
This move to shake up his staff may be interpreted as either an admission of wrongdoing or as a sign that he is on the run (politically). Either interpretation may make potential donors uneasy about giving money to Walker. The immediate beneficiary of this will not be Doyle, but Mark Green. The MSM has pretty much ignored Mark Green. The casual observer might think that, given that Walker and Green are ideologically similar, that Green is the less damaged prospect.
Walker will take a lot of heat for placing Villa back on his county staff, but this may still be a good decision.
We are well over a year away from the election. Plus, it is summer in Wisconsin. Any dust up over this appointment will likely be unnoticed by most voters and long forgotten before September. Remember, this is real inside baseball stuff. Most people don’t even know who anyone’s Chief of Staff is, much less what they do or how they got there. Therefore, if Walker is going to do it, this is the time. I would have preferred he waited a couple of weeks so that it is not seen as a reaction to the Harley non-story, but he can’t wait too long. Once Labor Day hits, Wisconsinites go back to work and start reading the news again.
The long term is also important. Scott Walker will take responsibility for anything that happens in Milwaukee County government. He is the County Executive and it’s his ship. He is getting past the time where he can effectively blame his predecessor, even if that is where the blame belongs. What we have seen in the past year or so are a few scandals like the Milwaukee County Museum fiasco that have been troublesome. Even though Walker handled those scandals very well, he needs to uncover them before they hit the news and diffuse them. To do this, he needs a tough Chief of Staff who knows county government and who has Walker’s political interests in mind. Although the positive effects of this move may never be known by the general public, it may be the best move that Walker makes this campaign preseason.
In the end, I think that Walker made a good decision. He will take a lot of heat – most of which will be unfounded – but the long term effect will be a positive.
My advice to Walker?
Respond forcefully to every criticism, and then refocus attention of Doyle’s failures. The coming veto marathon will help divert attention away from Walker.
(crossposted on B&S