In five months, the political powers in Wisconsin have co-opted all three branches of government to overturn nearly a century of Progressive political philosophy. The LaFollette idea of Wisconsin Government (called the “Wisconsin Idea”) states that government is responsible for doing the greatest good to the greatest possible number of citizens. Under Scott Walker (Executive Branch), the Fitzgerald brothers (Legislative), and David Prosser (Judicial) – the neoconservatives have colluded in a systematic dismantling of civil discourse and deliberative democracy. Instead of the “Wisconsin Idea,” we now have consolidation of power away from local governments and into the Governor’s office, a powerless Legislature (Act 21), Corporate tax welfare, slashed Public Education, increased taxes on working families, elimination of Public Worker’s rights (don’t worry private union workers – you’re next), and deficit spending. Wisconsin is politically unrecognizable from twenty years ago – and not for the better.
Right-wing talk shows (Sykes, Belling), op-ed pages, and bloggers have (ironically) been pointing the finger of blame for Wisconsin’s problems at Madison and Dane County for years. Madison is the seat of liberalism, rife with corruption and graft. Dane County is the source of blame for bad governance and wasteful spending, corrupt with patronage and corporate favors. These boisterous allegations deflect attention from the actual hub of political corruption in Wisconsin, and the source of GOP power – Waukesha County. The GOP has been consolidating power in Waukesha County for over two decades; creating a fortress for themselves and resulting in insulated single-party rule.
Since the early 1980’s, Waukesha County has become the perfect setting for GOP consolidation. The area has changed from being “cow county” to being one of the most affluent in the state. Population has steadily increased, as has income medians. From the above link, Waukesha county has become “…older (Wisconsin’s median age is 38; Waukesha County, 42), whiter (Wisconsin, 86%; Waukesha County, 98%), more families (Wisconsin, 64%; Waukesha County, 71%), fewer female-headed households with no husband present (Wisconsin, 10%; Waukesha County, 7%) and has more owner-occupied housing units (Wisconsin, 68%; Waukesha County, 76%).” The perfect target GOP demographic. The change can be seen in Gubernatorial Election Trends since 1982. In 1982, when Democrat Tony Earl won the Governorship, Waukesha County voted Republican by less than ten points. Thirteen Counties in the state had higher GOP vote margins. 1986 – 2006 saw Waukesha solidify its GOP fortress. Noteworthy is in 1994, even Dane County voted for Thompson. In 2006, Waukesha County was one of only three Republican voting counties. The Waukesha – based GOP powers now answer to a very narrow segment of wealthy, corporate interests – and it has been the difference in key elections, recently David Prosser.
When Kathy Nickolaus broke the news of finding thousands of votes, swinging the election in favor of Prosser, allegations of fraud immediately surfaced. The connection between Prosser and Nickolaus was easily made. Nickolaus had received immunity in exchange for her testimony in the Caucus Scandal that brought down Scott Jensen (Prosser’s former boss in the Assembly). Enter the Scott Jensen connection, and Waukesha County political corruption.
Scott Jensen was convicted on three felony counts of campaign fraud in 2006, and sentenced to 15 months in prison. The conviction was overturned on a “jury instruction” technicality in 2007. Jensen appealed the case, attempting a change in venue from Dane County to his home of Waukesha County, which the Appellate Court denied. The basis for his appeal was made possible by a new law passed for Jensen’s benefit – allowing campaign fraud trials to be held in a lawmaker’s home jurisdiction. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case and in May, 2010, ordered a change in venue (with Prosser recusing himself). He had testified for Jensen (his former boss) at the trial, saying he was an “honorable” politician. Prosser’s fellow conservative, Patience Roggensack authored the opinion based on the new State Statute in a unanimous opinin from the Conservative Court. Jensen’s case was moved to Waukesha County, and based on Prosser’s recent behavior, can there be any doubt in spite of his recusal, that he carried a great deal of influence on the Court’s decision to even hear the case?
In friendly Waukesha County, Jensen was able to arrange a plea bargain with Republican DA Brad Schimel. In December, 2010, one month after Republicans secured the Governor’s office and the Legislature, Jensen walked away with a civil forfeiture of $5000, and $67,000 in repayment of attorney’s fees to the state. He served no jail time. Kathy Nickolaus continues uncontested to control elections in Waukesha County. Was the delivery of Waukesha County to Prosser payback for his years of loyalty to Jensen and the GOP?
In filing their complaint to the GAB demanding an independent investigation into Kathy Nickolaus and the Waukesha County election results, the Kloppenburg Campaign submitted the following email from DA Brad Schimel (whose office would be responsible for prosecuting any alleged fraud) to Kathy Nickolaus as evidence of impropriety:
Sent: Friday, April 8, 2011 8:24 AM
You handled everything as well as possible yesterday. I had several events last night, and everyone I spoke with was very understanding about how something like this could happen.
I think it will be ok. Hang in there and keep your chin up.
Jensen, Prosser, Nickolaus – just the beginning of the list. County Executive Dan Vrakas – running virtually unopposed faced a cocaine possession conviction, yet was “anointed” by Charlie Sykes as the best candidate for the job. Vrakas raised huge sums of money ($114,000+) in his election bids to the Wisconsin Assembly prior to becoming County Executive. Judge Linda VanDeWater faces disorderly conduct charges from March in Racine County involving a domestic dispute (she is a Walker supporter, and vice-versa). Jefferson Davis, former Menominee Falls Village President, was forced out of office as part of a plea for campaign violations (Mr. Davis is a frequent GOP campaign contributor).
The population in Waukesha County is insulated from the rest of the state by a well established GOP machine. Right-wing talk radio, big money, and corporate influence in a virtual single-party rule have created the perfect environment for run away power and corruption. There should be little question regarding motive, opportunity, or ability of the GOP machine in Waukesha County to do whatever it takes to achieve their desired outcome in an election.
For the conservatives reading this who claim Dane County is just as bad in its liberal leanings – I would point out one eye-opening fact. The Democratic Legislators whose trials remained in Dane County Circuit Court went to prison. Brian Burke received a six-month sentence and had to pay almost $88,000 in fines. Chuck Chvala served 9 months, with two years probation. In both cases, the “Liberal Dane County Judges'” sentences exceeded prosecutor recommendations. Scott Jensen walked.
The next time you hear the GOP call for moving the State Capitol, you will know where they would love to have it – Waukesha County. The real home of political corruption, patronage, and power in Wisconsin.