This week culminated in yet another Republican bill being passed that consolidates political power, opens the door to corruption, and ensures cronyism will run rampant. In the past 7 days, we’ve seen Republicans exempt themselves from corruption investigations, take us back to the Elections and Ethics Commissions that ignore political corruption, open the flood gates to more secret corporate money in elections, and allow individuals to conceal carry knives. And now, Assembly Republicans voted to gut Wisconsin’s civil service system in order to game the formerly objective public employee hiring system.
Wisconsin was a leader when it created its civil service laws in 1905. AB 373 overhauls the state’s civil service system for Wisconsin’s 30,000 public employees. It eliminates objective civil service exams and replaces them with a subjective system for hiring. It increases the probationary period, allowing employees to be fired for any reason for up to 2 years. Included in the definition of “just cause” is “personal conduct” that is “unsuitable,” which leaves too much discretion in the hands of state agencies to discipline employees for manufactured reasons.
If the Walker Administration wants, as Governor Bob La Follette’s slogan says, for “the best to serve the state,” there are proactive steps that must be taken, and gutting civil service protections isn’t one of them. If the Republicans really want to attract the best and the brightest, they shouldn’t have cut take-home pay and eliminated collective bargaining rights. Governor Walker and legislative Republicans should be working to repair the damage they inflicted on Wisconsin’s workers, not destroying civil service protections.
Additionally, we’ve already seen the corruption that can occur in state employment when civil service standards are removed. This is what happened when the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) was created. Without the civil service process, WEDC has seen unprecedented levels of corruption and unethical behavior. One analysis of the $975 million WEDC doled out from 2011-2014 found that 60% of the funds went to those that contributed directly to Governor Walker or the Republican Governor’s Association. Taxpayer money has been irresponsibly loaned to Walker donors who need to make their Maserati payments.
Even before the civil service system was ransacked, we’d already begun to see cronyism seeping into our government:
If you signed the recall petition, you’re weren’t appointed to a board you were otherwise extremely qualified to be on. If you conducted research based on science, not politics, you were fired, just like the 18 scientists at the Department of Natural Resources. If you were a long time civil servant and you disagreed with one of the agencies, your job was turned into an unclassified position, causing you to lose all job protections.
In the face of reduced public employee protections, I am introducing an anti-retaliation bill to ensure that public employees will not be targeted for simply doing their jobs or exercising their basic, protected 1st Amendment rights. This is a small step towards treating state employees with the respect they deserve.