In 2014, at the longest Cabinet meeting held during my four-plus years, our transportation secretary, Mark Gottlieb, shared recommendations from a bipartisan blue-ribbon commission that clearly showed the need for additional transportation funding, and also made clear that “kicking the can down the road” would only lead to dramatically higher costs for future administrations to deal with. Still, Walker refused to consider any increase to the state gas tax or to vehicle-registration fees. I believe he was afraid of what talk radio would say about that.
Throughout 2014, Walker was traveling the country, gearing up for a presidential run. He was a regular on Fox News and courting big-money donors. Our marching orders, meanwhile, were to play up each and every administration “success,” and to take care of special interests. Our agencies became politicized.
Wisconsin has some of the laxest laws in the country when it comes to small-dollar lending like payday and auto-title loans. Of the states that allow payday loans, we’re one of just eight with no interest-rate cap of any kind. The average interest rate charged on a payday loan here is 585 percent, and some lenders charge as much as 1,000 percent. But my department was not given room to regulate small-dollar lenders during the Walker administration, a fact I attribute to heavy political contributions to the governor and the Republican-controlled legislature by vested interests.
When a lobbyist for the payday-lending industry asked to meet with me to discuss yet another request for regulatory “relief,” I rebuffed him. Fifteen minutes later, I got a call from the governor’s office directing me to give full consideration to the lobbyist’s requests because he represented big supporters of the administration. I did, but it was another straw on the camel’s back. It seemed to me that, for Walker, political friends and donors came first.
Read: Scott Walker isn’t sorry.
At the Department of Financial Institutions, we were also chartered with the responsibility of promoting financial literacy in the state. As such, I worked with State Superintendent of Schools Tony Evers on a number of projects. Evers is now running for governor against Walker, and as I’ve said elsewhere, he has my full support.
Others who served in Walker’s Cabinet have also soured on their former boss. Ex–Transportation Secretary Gottlieb said in September that Walker “isn’t telling the truth” about Wisconsin’s roads, and blasted him for “taking a high-risk gamble” when it comes to the state’s infrastructure. In August, ex–Corrections Secretary Ed Wall published a book titled Unethical: Life in Scott Walker’s Cabinet and the Dirty Side of Politics, a clear jab at Walker’s book Unintimidated. Earlier this month, ex–Commerce Secretary Paul Jadin resigned from his $208,000-a-year job in economic development in order to publicly share criticism of Walker, declaring that Walker “routinely put his future ahead of the state.”
Walker wanted to do right by Wisconsin when he was first elected governor—or so it seemed to me. But the longer he was in office, and the more public attention came his way, the more he changed his focus from improving the lot of the people of his state to improving his standing with the Republican Party. In so doing, he made decisions that were bad for Wisconsin and—if the latest polls are right—ultimately bad for his political aspirations as well.