Walker wants to weaken Wisconsin's 106-year-old civil service laws in order to hire more people like Jerry Deschane's son.
Good work if you can get it
It has been nearly 106 years since the Wisconsin Legislature enacted one of the first civil service laws in the nation, a crowning achievement of the progressive wing of the state’s then Republican Party.
Governor Robert M. La Follette signed the new law in June of 1905 and sang its virtues because it called for state employees to be hired based on competitive examinations, rather than jobs being filled at the whim of whoever was in political power at the time.
Before the law, it was not uncommon for friends or relatives of politicians to somehow land jobs over obviously much more qualified candidates. Often friends of friends would get high-ranking positions over state workers who had years of experience and expertise in a critical area. Many, of course, had contributed handsomely to or worked for a politician’s election campaign.
Over the years, Wisconsin’s civil service law has frequently been cited for its fairness and effectiveness. Except for high-ranking department or secretary levels, nearly all state jobs are covered by the law. And with the exception of one of former Governor Tommy Thompson’s budget years when the governor won the right to make a few more political appointments, it has generally not only been supported, but improved over the years.
Until now, that is.
In his zeal to undo Wisconsin’s progressive tradition, Governor Scott Walker included in his dismantling of the collective bargaining law an exemption from civil service for 37 more jobs. He would get to appoint agency attorneys, communications officials and legislative liaisons.
Already we’ve been given a taste of what happens when politicians get to decide who will get good government jobs.
The son of the lobbyist for the Wisconsin Builders Association, which made more than $120,000 in campaign contributions to Walker and his running mate, last month was placed in an $81,500-per-year job in Walker’s Department of Commerce. This, despite the fact that 27-year-old Brian Deschane has no college degree, little management experience and two drunk-driving convictions.
Only because Daniel Bice of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel exposed this bit of chicanery, Deschane was quickly demoted back to his $65,000-a-year job with the Department of Regulation and Licensing and then late last week decided to leave the administration altogether.
In what has to rank as one of the best tell-me-another-story comments, Jerry Deschane, Brian’s dad, insisted that his group’s donations didn’t help his son get the job.
“He got the position himself,” Deschane told Bice.
What makes the appointment even more disgusting is that Walker keeps telling Wisconsin people that their state is “broke,” and everyone who works for the state must take big cuts and make do without union protection.
Yet there’s $81,500 plus benefits to put a person in a management job who lacks management experience.
The more we see of this administration’s tactics, the more it becomes imperative that Wisconsin does all it can to preserve its civil service system.
Without it, the state will not only be controlled by the state’s corporations and special interests, but the corporations and special interests will have all the jobs as well.
(A version of this article originally appeared in the opinion section of the Capital Times.)
April 12, 2011
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Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of the Capital Times and a FightingBob.com contributing editor.