When Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker looked like a leading Republican presidential hopeful, his far-right governing agenda in the Badger State was a major national story. The GOP governor had unnerving success moving Wisconsin dramatically to the right – on collective bargaining, voting rights, reproductive rights, and series of other issues – which mattered insofar as the shift offered hints about what Americans could expect from a Walker White House.
The governor’s campaign, we know now, was an embarrassing flop – Walker’s formal candidacy lasted just 70 days – and if the governor makes it to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, he’ll be there as a tourist. But away from the national spotlight, he returned home, went right back to work, and the degree to which Walker is changing Wisconsin at a fundamental level still matters. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel had this report yesterday:
Gov. Scott Walker privately signed a measure Wednesday loosening the state’s campaign finance laws and eliminating the state elections and ethics agency that investigated his campaign for teaming up with conservative groups. […]One of the measures Walker signed will dissolve the Government Accountability Board and hand its duties over on July 1 to two new agencies – the Elections Commission and the Ethics Commission.
It was quite a day in Madison. Shortly before making it easier for corporations to contribute to parties and legislative campaign committees, Walker dismantled the nonpartisan Government Accountability Board, which the Huffington Post noted, “has been held up as a national model because it’s run by six former judges rather than partisan political appointees. ” Going forward, there will now be two different commissions, run “mostly by partisan appointees put in place by the governor and legislative leaders.”
This move comes just two months after Walker and Wisconsin’s Republican-run state legislature scrapped so-called “John Doe” investigations into alleged political misconduct.
Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause Wisconsin, told MSNBC in October that the state “used to be considered a model for the nation in terms of good clean government and transparency. Now, however, “all the unique features that used to make Wisconsin a model – Republicans have stripped that away.”
To get a sense of why the demise of Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board matters, take a look at the TRMS segment from three years ago: