Sand Mine growth outpaces WI DNR ability, will to monitor and regulate

An email from Wisconsin DNR spokesman William Cosh to Mark Mohr (pg 2 of the document) in the Walker Administration from September 28, 2011 addresses media questions, concern about frac sand mining in West Central Wisconsin:

It’s one thing to measure particulate matter in ambient air, which the DNR does. It is quite another to determine what percentage of particles, of varying size, are composed of crystalline silica…there are no generally accepted methods for monitoring them and no federal or state standards to apply. Nor is there any compelling evidence from health studies to indicate an urgent need for such testing.

  The unprecedented growth of sand mining in West Central Wisconsin over the past year has created a policy crisis for the state and the DNR. The above statement reveals the nature of this policy lapse. First, the lack of effective and accurate measurement, monitoring, and regulation of air quality. Second, the current DNR (and state) administration is ignoring potential future health impact of airborne crystalline silica.

Silica studies done by DNR scientists have been extensive – as the agency had anticipated the boom in sand mining over the past decade. The most extensive study (NR445) was to have been completed under Administrative Rule by July 1, 2006. It was finalized and submitted 5 years late – August 2011. The study specifically cites the shortcomings of current regulatory methods and standards:

A recurring theme from the literature review and survey is that very little conclusive information exists regarding sources, controls or levels of silica present in ambient air. This lack of data means it is not
currently possible to determine conclusively whether or to what extent the quantity, duration or types of silica emissions in the state may be a public health concern. It would take significant additional efforts to fill in these data gaps.

The health risks for crystalline silica under PM4 (the size in microns – millionths of a meter – of most risk to humans) were documented in the report:

The National Toxicology Program Eleventh Report on Carcinogens (2005) states that respirable crystalline silica is “known to be a human carcinogen, based on sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity from studies in humans, indicating a causal relationship between exposure to respirable crystalline silica and increased lung cancer rates in workers exposed to crystalline silica dust”. In addition, IARC notes that: “Crystalline silica inhaled in the form of quartz or cristobalite from occupational sources [i.e.,
workplace exposures] is carcinogenic to humans,” and is classified as a Group 1 carcinogen (IARC 1997).

The report cites other non-cancerous illnesses as well, including pulmonary, kidney, and silcotuberculosis. Contrary to Cosh’s email to the Walker Administration – there are numerous studies that document effective testing. The problem in our current situation – it is not in practice or widely accepted.

An independent citizens group – “Concerned Chippewa Citizens” conducted its own study monitoring air quality around an operating mine near Chippewa Falls.  The study conducted by Jeff Falk (a trained statistician from Fountain City) raises serious questions about air quality and testing, and acknowledges its own shortcomings – yet the data is consistent and concerning. There are numerous occurrences within a 24 hour period that potentially exceed EPA standards.

Independent studies are being conducted by Dr. Crispin Pierce at UW-Eau Claire on air quality around the sand mines. Dr. Pierce’s study took baseline samples prior to mine operation, and subsequently conducted sample taking after the mine became operational. The study took a “snapshot” of an 8-12 hour period; and according to Dr. Pierce, there was a noted increase in aerosol (particle and airborne) levels. While the study has not yet identified the nature of the “aerosol” particulate – something caused an increase. Dr. Pierce and his colleagues are continuing identification and sampling in the area of the mines.

The DNR is virtually ignoring these independent studies, citing a “flawed” gathering mechanism. The DNR points to the standard it enforces as being sufficient for the current operations. There are several problems with these “standards.” There are exemptions which (under the current “job creation” and customer service mission of state agencies) are relatively loose compared to health consequences. Also, by DNR admission, the air monitoring science and evaluation is insufficient.

Sampling (where applicable) only needs to take place every 6 days at PM10 – in which case you “oversample,” capturing a high amount of irrelevant material. Or PM 2.5 in which case you “undersample”, much of the critical PM 4 particulate escaping. This is important – the ideal sample standard is PM 4. The gathering method and standard for this does not exist. As one DNR official admitted, the mining development moved faster than regulation.

Taking into account the consequences, lack of accurate measurement surrounding air quality and sand mining, and the known health risks involved, the DNR and state should immediately issue a moratorium on sand mining development.

The final issue being completely ignored by the state agency charged with protecting natural resources is this – the sand country of Aldo Leopold is being ravaged, with little to no state regulation of protection of this unique environment. In fact, it is the unique-in-all-the-world that makes this land so valuable, even to the mining companies.

The legacy of this Administration and DNR is being carved out of the sand and earth. It will be years before we know the health and environmental costs. Weighed against how long the jobs will last, and what (if any) other revenue benefit to the region there is – one must ask – is it worth it?

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New Mining Bill in Wisconsin – very much alive…

About four months ago, a controversial mining bill was declared dead. Even Gogebic Taconite President Bill Williams said the company was leaving the state because the Senate sent a “clear message that Wisconsin will not welcome iron mining. We get the message.” An investigation by Badger Democracy has revealed that announcement was misleading and premature.

Even before the failed passage of the mining bill (AB426), Scott Walker appointed Tim Sullivan (President and CEO of Bucyrus – mining equipment manufacturer) as “Special Consultant for Business and Workforce Development.” In mid-June, Sullivan himself admitted that passing a mining bill was still a top priority. However, with the DNR reporting G-TAC withdrawing its exploratory permit and “packing up the operation;” any revised mining legislation easing the permitting and regulatory process seemed unlikely – especially considering the heavy push back from citizens and political fallout.

The lobbying and money trail of G-TAC and mining interests continue to show great interest in mining legislation. It is highly unlikely a company would commit so many resources to an effort it had “given up on.” Gogebic spent over $200,000 in 2011 lobbying for mining legislation. That’s not all – G-TAC has put new lobbyists on the effort – adding 4 in November-December 2011; and one as recently as February 2012. 

Of the new lobbyists, 2 are from “Arrowhead Strategies” in Madison (Thomas Fonfara and Robert Seitz) operating out of 10 East Doty St, the same building as the Koch Industries lobby. Both have lobbied for the American Federation for Children. Jack O’Meara began lobbying for G-TAC in February 2012.

The final two recent lobbyist additions are G-TAC employees – Engineer Timothy Myers, and President Bill Williams. As the lobbying investment continues, it is unlikely G-TAC would give up on such a heavy investment – one that dates back to January 2011.

Recent Mining Bill emails disclosed under open records requests reveal a series of communications between the parties authoring the legislation early 2011. The process started at the law firm Whyte, Hirschboeck & Dudek (WHD) and attorneys Thomas Pyper and Michael S. Rogowski (at the time both lobbyists for Gogebic). Ironically, Rogowski was also a lobbyist for the Ho-Chunk Nation and has since withdrawn from Gogebic. From there, the draft legislation written by  WHD went to Walker’s office for proofing. Next – either to DNR for rule  clarification or directly to the Legislative Reference Bureau attorneys, who wrote the legislation to comport with statutory language.

Of particular interest is the exchange on page  11 of the emails. The email originates from Attorney Rogowski (Gogebic) to “Scott and Keith” – no doubt Keith Gilkes (Gov. office) and Walker himself. The email is an introduction to Marc Holtzman “meeting with Scott (Walker)” to help with his campaign – including “contributing.” Marc Holtzman is Vice-Chair of Barclay’s and failed 2006 GOP candidate for Colorado Governor from Aspen. The contact was initiated by Larry Wolk, President and COO of Correctional Healthcare Management in Colorado – now pushing for privatized correctional healthcare nationwide. Always a campaign for Walker. But we’ve digressed.

WHD senior partners have been rewarded well for their service in writing mining legislation for Walker, GOP, and G-TAC. In February 2011, Mary Stitt (husband Donald is partner with WHD) was paid $215,000 by the Walker Campaign as “lead fundraiser” for Scott Walker. In July 2011, Don Daugherty, Senior Partner at WHD was appointed to Walker’s “Judicial Selection Advisory Commission.” WHD Partners also contributed $6,000 just in individual contributions to the Walker recall campaign.

With all this effort and investment, it would seem unlikely G-TAC would just “pack it up.” This is not mere speculation – they are waiting for the right time, and it will be January 2013.

A letter dated January 16, 2012 from The Wisconsin Mining Association (Tim Sullivan, President) urged Assembly passage of AB426:

Our board is supportive of AB 426 because
we believe the legislation accomplishes…goals critical to creating a reasonable regulatory framework under which we can promote responsible iron mining in this state.

At the bottom of the list of WMA Board Members are two names – Jim and Kennan Wood, of Wood Communications Group. Today, as Badger Democracy was preparing this expose, The Progressive published a July 19, 2012 letter from Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce Senior Vice President James Buchen to Kennan Wood. The letter references a meeting between “Kurt (Bauer), Scott (Manley – WMC Director of Environment and Energy Policy), and Buchen. The strategy is laid out, confirming the lobbying activity and connecting the dots. In brief, the strategy is to continue allowing G-TAC to take the lead in any further legislation, and wait out the results of the November election – without mentioning the issue to “George Meyer, Bob Jauch, or anyone else.”

Sorry WMC, WMA, and G-TAC – your secret is out. The question is, why is this being pursued so persistently? Former chief state geologist Bruce Brown has questioned the economic feasibility of the Gogebic Taconite mine. While G-TAC had received permits to do exploratory sample drilling, they have since cancelled those permits. According to the DNR, G-TAC has not taken any core samples at the mine site. According to Brown, there are two major issues. First – the sharp pitch of the iron ore. Normal pitch is around 50-56 degrees; at the Gogebic site, the pitch is 60-70 degrees. Second, the surface  rock, according to Brown, is very deep – and may have a heavy sulfide composition creating additional costly extraction issues.

The DNR considers the Gogebic Mine to be a non-issue, remarking that the company has ceased all operations and cancelled permits. Yet they continue to invest political and financial capital into the project. If they haven’t taken samples, what are they (literally) banking on?

One anonymous DNR scientist shed some light on that question. The current mineral rights are owned by three companies – LaPoint, RGGS, and US Steel. According to the DNR, US Steel had made many exploratory efforts in the Gogebic range from 1950-1970. G-TAC is leasing the mining rights to that land from those companies. It is very possible that G-TAC has already seen results of core tests previously taken by US Steel. The effort being put into this legislative process by G-TAC is consistent with having knowledge, even if slightly outdated, that the mine would be highly profitable.

For the record, G-TAC did not respond to repeated questions regarding this article. Should the GOP take the elections in November, we will see a mining bill, written by G-TAC, again. And they will have an even greater vested interest in its passage.

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US Senator Ron Johnson disposed of securities holdings…by creating a charitable foundation

Tax returns and financial documents filed by Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson show the first-term Republican has disposed of securities holdings, as promised in his campaign. Instead of a blind trust, however; he and his immediate family started a non-profit charitable foundation which was gifted several large securities formerly held by Johnson. The foundation then converted the securities into cash assets, which have been the source of minor donations over the past three years – keeping much of the cash assets in tact, and in direct control of Senator Johnson.

As early as Fall 2009, Ron Johnson began appearing on the Tea Party speaking circuit. Just prior to that, on May 12, 2009; Johnson and several of his immediate family members (and one faithful campaign contributor) registered a non-profit corporation in Wisconsin – The Grammie Jean Foundation, with Ron Johnson as the Registered Agent. Examination of financial records for Johnson and the Foundation seem to confirm the intent was to help Johnson clear a path for “disposing” of potential financial conflicts in preparation for his 2010 campaign. Johnson had a great deal of work to do.

In August, 2010, it was reported by Daniel Bice that Johnson’s PACUR Corporation had changed the company’s history on its website, to eliminate controversy over a railroad grant to Johnson’s company. According to the Johnson Campaign in 2010 (from the Bice article):

Ron Johnson moved to Wisconsin in June of 1979 and started Pacur, which has become a true Wisconsin success story,”  (Johnson Campaign Website)

The only problem with Johnson’s timeline, however, was Pacur’s own website, which put its founding in 1977. It is not unusual for companies to adopt the corporate histories of their predecessors or firms they acquire, especially if it makes them look like they have deeper roots in a community. Wisconsin Industrial Shipping was owned by Johnson’s brother-in-law, Pat Curler.

But by Wednesday – voila! – Johnson’s company website had been brought in line with statements by Johnson’s campaign. 

By August 2010, Johnson had been well on his way to getting his finances in order – especially securities which could pose a potential financial conflict of interest.

The 2009 Statement of Economic Interest (SEI) filed by Johnson show significant shares (among many multinationals) of Monsanto and Exxon Mobil stock (page 4 of the document).  According to the 2009 form 990pf filed with the IRS, on May 5, 2009 (3 days before the corporate registration with Wisconsin DFI), Ron Johnson “gifted” the Grammie Jean Foundation 104 shares of Monsanto securities and 2,728 shares of Exxon Mobil securities with a fair market value reported as $194,069. In addition, Ron and Jane Johnson personally gifted $56,347 on the same day – May 5, 2009.

Three days later, on May 12, 2009; The Grammie Jean Foundation (being run by Johnson) sold 104 shares of Monsanto for $8,489, and 1,328 shares of Exxon Mobil for $56,137. Later that year in November (well after Johnson had started the Tea Party circuit), The Foundation sold the remaining 1,400 Exxon Mobil  shares for $83,593. The total net cash assets generated from these transactions was $148,219 + $2,322 in dividends. 

Tax returns show the Grammie Jean Foundation awarded only $68,500 in grants in 2009, leaving the foundation with over $130,000 in cash assets at year-end. All but one award went to out-of-state charities, primarily in Minnesota – Johnson’s home state. Badger Democracy interviewed the administrators of several of the charities who all had consistent accounts of their grants. They had been awarded the grants unsolicited; and the awards (in most cases) have been repeated in the two consecutive years of 2010, 2011.

The Directors of the Foundation are Ron Johnson, Dean Johnson (“Hometime” creator and Ron’s brother from Minnesota), Barry Johnson (Ron’s brother and PACUR officer), Dale Johnson (Ron’s father – also in Minnesota), and Lynn Bleckinger – a faithful Johnson campaign donor from Bloomington, Minnesota.  The Bleckingers gave $7200 to the 2010 Johnson campaign. None of the officers report any salary from the Foundation.

Johnson’s SEI for 2010 and 2011 show a clear pattern of these large securities falling off the Senator’s investment holdings. A June 6, 2011 article in the Appleton Post-Crescent told part of the story, this quote from Johnson:

“I sold every liquid asset so there would be absolutely no chance for conflict of interest,” Johnson said in an interview Wednesday with Gannett. “Throughout the campaign, I had said I’d put money into a blind trust. Those things take so long to set up, I thought the best thing would be to turn all those (stocks) into cash and set up a blind trust in the future.”

Johnson has not set up a blind trust. The 2009 financials show that Johnson has indeed “sold every liquid asset.” It would appear that he has maintained control of the cash assets, however, through the charitable foundation he set up with his family (and donor).

Meanwhile, Johnson continues to promote the interests of big oil (even supporting Great Lakes oil development) and agri-business (like Monsanto and Exxon).

It is important to point out that should the Grammie Jean Foundation dissolve (say, after Johnson leaves office); it’s assets (including cash resulting from securities sale and re-investment) could very well revert back to the registered agent – Ron Johnson. The Senator is poised to maintain complete control over his fortune from sale of securities; and hypothetically, re-invest post Senate tenure – using all the insider knowledge gained from his experience.

For the record, the Grammie Jean Foundation phone number registered with the Wisconsin DFI is that of PACUR. A PACUR spokesperson referred Badger Democracy to Senator Johnson’s office for requests to view the 2010 and 2011 990pf filings (as required by Internal Revenue Code). The Senator’s office has not yet responded to this request.

After speaking with the IRS, Badger Democracy has initiated a request with the IRS to view the financial records for Johnson’s Foundation, and will update as available.

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Current Job Drought is disastrous for economy, Wisconsin…and disproves Walker, GOP ideology

Wisconsin lost 11,700 private sector jobs in June. Including 1,500 jobs lost  in the Government Sector, the total is a dismal 13,200 – the most in 11 months. The unemployment rate is poised to rise from 6.8% to 7.0%:

The report clearly had an impact on the Walker Administration. Department of Workforce Development (DWD) Secretary Reggie Newson sent a letter to Bureau of Labor Statistics Commissioner John Galvin, blasting the agencies accounting methods – in essence, because they make the Walker Administration look bad:

“From the college graduate contemplating which state to launch a career to the business owner analyzing whether to expand at home or elsewhere, people across our state and nation are making major life decisions based on this information and, collectively, these decisions have an impact on our overall economy.”

Walker, his administration, and Conservative Republicans will never solve this unemployment or economic crisis. They will instead continue to distract; casting doubt about the survey methods previously heralded by Walker, when those numbers makes him look good. The facts, however, are this – Walker and conservatives nationwide are staking their economic policy about job creation on a lie. The result will be a deepening economic, and worse, unemployment crisis.

The economic myth that says “lower taxes on the job creators” will result in job creation is at the forefront of GOP campaigns this year. US House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has the claim on the “jobs” page of his website:

Fix the Tax Code to Help Job Creators:

  • Increase American competitiveness to spur investment and create more American jobs by streamlining the tax code and lowering the tax rate for businesses and individuals including small business owners to no more than 25%.

The right-wing answer to our chronic jobs problem is to cut the top rate to 25%. Here’s the problem – tax rates for the wealthy and “job creators” have been decreasing for decades. This writer (and other’s) question to conservatives…Where the h*ll are the jobs? There can be no more doubt that this economic philosophy is a failure.

In a recent blog, Paul Krugman summarizes the fundamental issue:

Tax rates for the super-elite, the top .01%, have fallen in half since Mitt Romney’s father ran for president; or to put it differently, after tax income for this group has doubled due to policy alone. And bear in mind that the US economy flourished just fine under those 60-70 tax rates

A table from a 2007 study published in the “Journal of Economic Perspectives” shows the “job creators” benefitting from decreased progressivism in the tax code:

Noteworthy is while the top tax rates have been cut nearly in half, the tax rate for the middle 60-90% (the functional middle class) has INCREASED by 25-33%. In Wisconsin, Scott Walker made tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations his first priority as Governor. With all this additional income in the hands of the “job creators,” where are the jobs? Wisconsin in particular has had a trend of lowering tax rates on top-tier earners. The top marginal personal income tax rate from 1979 – 1985 was 10%. In 2009, the rate was 7.75% (Legislative Fiscal Bureau). This represents a combined (state and federal) 42.25% tax cut for the top-tier earners since 1979.

The current unemployment situation reflects that additional income in the hands of top-tier wage earners has done nothing to spur job creation – in fact, in Wisconsin, there is virtually zero growth in jobs. Evidenced by the recent BLS data, there are 15,200 fewer people employed from May 2011-May 2012; and only 8,000 more than May 2010:

State employment 2010-2012

Year Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
2010 2716.9 2714.5 2718.0 2725.3 2728.0 2723.0 2727.2 2731.5 2729.4 2740.9 2743.0 2740.8
2011 2744.8 2750.2 2754.5 2753.4 2751.5 2742.5 2738.8 2729.0 2734.0 2731.2 2719.4 2719.8
2012 2725.0 2735.1 2737.9 2733.7 2736.3

 The unemployment rate ticked up to 6.8% in May, and as reported above, to preliminary 7.0% in June:

State unemployment rate 2010-2012

Year Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
2010 9.2 9.1 9.0 8.8 8.6 8.4 8.3 8.2 8.1 8.0 7.9 7.8
2011 7.7 7.6 7.6 7.5 7.6 7.6 7.6 7.6 7.4 7.3 7.1 7.0
2012 6.9 6.9 6.8 6.7 6.8

The Walker Administration has pointed to the decline in the RATE as being the benchmark that his policy is  “working”, but there is data which disputes their claim. The “Labor Force” data points to a bigger problem – chronic long-term unemployment. People dropped from the system due to benefits expiring; or those who do not qualify for benefits are not reported in the unemployment rate. The Labor Force data for Wisconsin shows this is a real and persistent problem. Since 2010, the number of people in the eligible workforce has remained basically flat. There have been modest gains and losses, but no expected trend upwards:

State Labor Force 2010-2012

Year Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
2010 3096168 3099651 3099906 3096209 3089619 3082208 3075845 3071277 3068599 3067648 3067750 3068342
2011 3069656 3070780 3070312 3067707 3063898 3060386 3058088 3057357 3057366 3057248 3056534 3056367
2012 3054610 3059442 3064447 3069130 3075391

Wisconsin averaged a .9% annual increase in workforce population over the past two years (US Census Data), roughly 1%. A drop in labor force of over 14,000, when population increases would predict an increase of 60,000 means one thing – more people are dropping out of the workforce, and are not reported in the unemployment rate. Any job growth is not keeping up with the increase in workforce, and it leads to one conclusion.

The arrogance and ideology of Scott Walker and the conservative Republicans are preventing them from admitting to economic policy failure. The reduction of taxes for the “job creators” has been occurring for decades. High taxes on “job creators” is not our problem. As previously stated by economists worldwide, the deficit is not our primary problem – weak consumer demand and unemployment are our problems. Put people back to work and increase demand for goods among the middle class, and the economy will recover; deficits will decrease, the economy will recover.

A note to Walker and his allies. You can’t run government like a business. Managing a “micro” economy like a corporation (no matter how large) is no comparison to running a complex, interconnected, “macro” economy of a state or national government. Many people have trouble grasping the difference in complexity between even the largest business and a national economy.

The U.S. economy employs 120 million people, about 200 times as many as General Motors, the largest employer in the United States. Yet even this 200-to-1 ratio vastly understates the difference in complexity between the largest business organization and the national economy. A mathematician will tell us that the number of potential interactions among a large group of people is proportional to the square of their number. Without getting too mystical, it is likely that the U.S. economy is in some sense not hundreds but tens of thousands of times more complex than the biggest corporation. (Harvard Business Review, January/February 1996)

Stop fighting about the numbers and govern…but we won’t hold our breath. We’ll be looking for your replacements.

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Wisconsin Election Protection and securing the vote

The “Wisconsin Insurgent Radio Network” show with Jim Mueller, attorney for Wisconsin Election Protection grassroots organizations is now archived for listening. Protecting the security and accuracy of our elections is paramount – as Mueller stated, billions of dollars are being invested in political power. It is critical to assure that election tampering is not unduly influencing our elections; especially at a time post-Citizens United when money already has an outsized influence on democracy. A group of grassroots organizations is in the process of conducting a county-by-county hand recount of recall election ballots. The count will be compared with the electronic results reported on election night and certified by the Government Accountability Board.

New York Times magazine featured an article pointing out the unreliability of electronic voting machines in 2008. Clive Thompson’s piece follows election irregularities in Ohio and Pennsylvania, and outlines the (at that time) growing concern over computer control of our elections.

A WNYC article from May 9, 2012 documents voting machines “dropping votes” in the Bronx, New York – nearly 30% in one precinct.

A short documentary titled “Hacking Democracy” demonstrates the ease in which vote totals can be changed by remote access on a simple laptop computer.

The basic problem is that a handful of privately owned companies are controlling the technology and mechanisms controlling HOW our most fundamental right to vote is counted…or not. These corporations have too much control over the process and equipment – to the point of “trade secret” protecting software programming.

You can get involved by going to “Wisconsin Counts” on Facebook, or www.wisconsinwave.org/handcount to volunteer to assist with the public handcounting of the recall election ballots.

For the record, the GAB states that Wisconsin goes through rigorous testing of machines before elections; including running “test packs” of ballots (small samples) to test for accuracy. This testing, according to the GAB, leads to certification of equipment before an election takes place.

Jim Mueller addresses this statement in the interview…you’ll have to listen to hear his response.

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Wisconsin is still a leader…in job losses

This morning’s US Department of Labor press release tells a continuing tale of stagnant job growth and a long-term unemployment problem in Wisconsin.

The largest increases in initial claims for the week ending July 7 were in New York (+22,336), Michigan (+7,602), Ohio (+5,976), Pennsylvania (+4,775), and Wisconsin (+4,615), while the largest decreases were in California (-9,016), New Jersey (-5,282), Connecticut (-917), Massachusetts (-716), and Oklahoma (-671). 

Wisconsin (population 5.7 million) is number 4 in initial unemployment claims – behind New York (population 19.4 million), Michigan (population 9.8 million) , Ohio (population 11.5 million), and Pennsylvania (population 12.7 million) – all states with significantly larger populations.

The rise in claims erases the modest drop in claims last week of 663. This is further evidence of flat job growth, and a long-term unemployment problem. The added consequences of an extreme drought will make this economic situation worse.

The question is…Where is Scott Walker? While Walker is off playing political superstar, there is now the opportunity for a special session of the Legislature which could actually act in a bi-partisan session. We do not need a governor-in-absentia, we need leadership.  Again, as Wisconsinites are suffering through a depressed economy, Walker and his allies are playing politics…with people’s lives.

 

Walker appointee for Chief WEDC job is unqualified, base cronyism

Scott Walker announced a “redeployment” of Administration staff today. The movement of Jocelyn Webster from DOA Communications Director to the Governor’s Communications Director is no surprise. State Senator Rich Zipperer is qualified for his new post, and resigns from a safe district in Waukesha County, so no surprise there.  The appointment of Ryan Murray to Chief Operating Officer of Wisconsin Economic Development Commission (WEDC) is a big deal – and reeks of cronyism.

WEDC has an operating budget for the 2011-2013 biennium of almost $162 million. It is currently under scrutiny from many Democratic legislators; as WEDC was set up without many of the previous accountability measures which previously existed under the Department of Commerce. In addition, a Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) report was critical of previous programs using tax dollars to “create jobs” – citing numerous issues with accountability, reporting, and results. The LAB will conduct an audit of WEDC in 2013.

While Ryan Murray might be a “nice guy” (as mentioned by one Capitol source), he is absolutely unqualified to hold the COO position at WEDC. Murray has no experience managing any type of complex business or government model; nor has he ever guided any public/private partnership. Walker’s statement said the following:

“Evaluating the strengths and talents of administration staff will ensure we can constantly reform state government to improve services and operate efficiently.  The newly assembled team will help Wisconsin continue down the path of prosperity.”

This nomination says a great deal about Walker’s ability (or lack thereof) to “evaluate the strengths and talents” of his staff. Here are Murray’s qualifications:

Office of Governor Scott Walker, Deputy Chief of Staff 

October 2011 – Present (10 months)

Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs

Office of Governor Scott Walker 

January 2011 – October 2011 (10 months)

Deputy Transition Director

Office of Governor-Elect Scott Walker 

November 2010 – January 2011 (3 months)

Policy Director

Friends of Scott Walker

Nonprofit; 1-10 employees; Government Relations industry

June 2010 – November 2010 (6 months)

Campaign Manager

Terrence Wall for U.S. Senate

Nonprofit; 1-10 employees; Political Organization industry

November 2009 – June 2010 (8 months)

Chief of Staff

Office of State Senator Randy Hopper 

January 2009 – November 2009 (11 months)

Communications Director

Office of Senate Republican Leader Scott Fitzgerald

January 2007 – January 2009 (2 years 1 month)

Campaign Manager

Friends of Randy Hopper 

September 2008 – November 2008 (3 months)

Legislative Aide

Office of State Senator Cathy Stepp 

October 2005 – January 2007 (1 year 4 months)

Legislative Aide

Office of State Representative Dan Vrakas

January 2005 – October 2005 (10 months)

Wisconsin Field Representative

Bush-Cheney ’04

Nonprofit; 201-500 employees; Political Organization industry

February 2004 – November 2004 (10 months)

Education

University of Wisconsin-Superior

Political Science, History

2002 – 2004

Macalester College

Political Science, History

2000 – 2002

Murray is not an expert in public/private corporate partnerships. He has zero experience in fiscal or economic policy. He is a partisan GOP political operative. This $100,000+ a year job is political payment for loyalty, plain and simple. Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca raises similar concern:

“One would think that for a six-figure salary, the governor could have given Wisconsin
taxpayers an economic development leader or at least someone with private-sector, job creation experience.”

The question is – who will really be running WEDC, because it won’t be Murray. With all due respect, he will be a puppet for those he has served since graduating from UW-Superior in 2004. His 8 years as a party water-carrier will not have prepared him for the post he is about to assume.

There have been many political appointments that smell of cronyism – this one reeks of it.

 

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