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Thursday, July 10, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 59.0° F  Fair
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OPINION

The Scott Walker scandals
They may dog the governor if he runs for president


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The worse things get for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the brighter our own Gov. Scott Walker's prospects look as a presidential contender in 2016.

In his book, Unintimidated: A Governor's Story and a Nation's Challenge, Walker writes about "how we reached into President Obama's base and won over the 'Obama-Walker' voters in Wisconsin -- and how conservatives can do it anywhere in the country."

"It is a myth that winning the center requires moving to the center," Walker adds.

That's music to the ears of Republican primary voters. Take heart, Walker tells the base: "the path to a conservative comeback lies not in abandoning our principles, but in championing bold, conservative reforms."

Walker's recipe for success -- bust the unions, privatize the schools, close Planned Parenthood clinics and push forward with the most divisive administration in state history -- has been a big hit with out-of-state right-wing billionaires. Which is why the governor has outraised his opponent, Mary Burke, by a margin of three to one.

If he can sell far-right politics to moderate voters in a swing state, Walker could be the Republican's dream candidate for 2016.

After all, the biggest problem Republicans face is getting a candidate who can win a general election past their own primary voters. And having forced Mitt Romney down the throats of tea partiers in 2012, they face an even more daunting challenge in 2016. The base is in no mood to swallow another "Etch A Sketch" candidate.

On the flip side, the party is scrambling to suppress candidates like Richard Black, the state senator from Virginia who likes to pose for pictures with little plastic fetuses and mail them to his colleagues. Black opposed putting up a statue of Abraham Lincoln in Richmond, on the grounds that the president who freed the slaves is still too controversial. Black dropped out of his House race when all the big money and institutional power, from Mitch McConnell to the Koch brothers, got behind his more palatable, moderate, female opponent.

But the wingnuts will need to be appeased when it comes time for the presidential primaries. Walker's conservative bona fides, plus his record of success in a blue state, make him a dream come true for many Republican strategists, according to a recent article in Politico.

But buyer beware: Christie isn't the only potential 2016 candidate dogged by scandal. Conservative groups in Wisconsin are struggling mightily to suppress a John Doe investigation that reportedly focuses on illegal coordination between those groups and the Walker campaign.

Of that impressive $5 million Walker raised in the second half of 2013, $86,000 went directly to defense lawyers.

In an earlier probe, Walker's campaign paid nearly $650,000 for lawyers representing the governor and his campaign committee, reports Jason Stein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Six Walker staffers and associates racked up 15 felony indictments in the first John Doe. Now the second one may uncover wrongdoing during the recall campaign.

Kelly Rindfleisch, Walker's fundraiser for the 2012 campaign and his former deputy chief of staff, was charged with four felony counts for misconduct in public office, each punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 and/or three and a half years in jail. She pleaded guilty to one in a plea deal. Next week all of her emails will be released by the court in a big document dump.

It was Rindfleisch who used the infamous secret email network in Walker's office when he was Milwaukee County exec. Walker claims he knew nothing about that, or about Rindfleisch's campaign activities on taxpayer time, although she was in constant contact during that period with Cullen Werwie, who received immunity to testify against Rindfleisch while serving as Walker's spokesman. Werwie managed the Brett Davis for Lieutenant Governor campaign, and Rindfleisch admits she raised money for Davis and did "substantial work...for Brett Davis during business hours while...paid to do work on behalf of Milwaukee County."

This is not small-time stuff we are talking about. Walker's top aide Timothy Russell is now in prison. And the details that come out when the Rindfleisch emails are released could mean a lot of trouble for the governor himself.

We can all understand why people in New Jersey are outraged at allegations their governor tied up traffic to punish a political foe. But do we care if our governor had staff who ran a secret campaign operation on taxpayer time? Or if right-wing groups like Wisconsin Club for Growth illegally colluded with Walker's campaign?

The short answer is yes. Here's why: Outside money is taking over our state, building up Walker and also using him to push laws that change everything from our environmental regulations and public-meetings laws to our public schools. Walker put Wisconsin up for sale to further his own national political ambitions. Wisconsinites will be paying the price for a long time to come.

As more details emerge from the second John Doe investigation, they may also take some of the shine off the Walker for President bandwagon. He might be Politico's flavor of the month, but Republicans should watch out: Walker may have a bridge or two he's trying to sell you.


Ruth Conniff is the editor of The Progressive.

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